Filling in with recent readings



POST 11 – 29-03-2014



Whale watching off Cairns North Queensland last August.


When I started this BLOG I set the program to prompt me weekly. This week I have been caught unprepared.

I saw this weekly setting as the discipline I would need to ensure that I actually got things done. While the weekly interval is completely arbitrary, I am sure I can find something current to fill in if and when I am slack in the personal scholarly matters.


So now I am pausing in my series on HOW DID EVERYTHING GET HERE so as to address some recent reading that is of current interest and also affects my central study. I will return to the MEME story soon.



These are a few of the things I have read about this week.



The recent production of evidence that gravitation waves actually exist supports the BIG BANG theory and the expanding universe (inflation) theory.

I was fascinated to read of the cosmological evidence for gravitation waves and for the Big Bang as well as confirmation of Cosmic Inflation.

A less technical, layman’s explanation here is helpful.

This new information on the origins of it all has led me to think a little wider on my topic of abiding interest – “How did everything get here?” So I have read a bit more widely.


Some reading shows possible links between the origins of the universe and the process of evolution by natural selection that I have been writing about. I have only recently uncovered studies that suggest that the process I have been discussing is more common than I had expected and is referred to by the name “Darwinism” rather than by “natural selection”. I would prefer a less personalised name but I am too late for that.

It appears that Darwinism applies to the three pronged process whereby anything that

1. replicates (or copies itself) and,

2. is subject to variation (or error in the copying process) and

3. competes for survival in its environment


The term Universal Darwinism (here and here) has been applied to the widespread occurrence of the phenomenon. I think that calling it “Universal” is a bit of a stretch but it is certainly widespread. An immediate question that arose for me was “What other forms of change are there?”

Immediately, I thought of erosion which is a process in which the change is not involved with replication and leads to disorder or a state of greater entropy. It seems to me that all the processes involved with entropy are non-replicative unless they are among the things that take energy from the system and use it to halt the “downhill” effects of entropy. The main system that has this property is “life”. The biological process of evolution seems to reverse the direction of entropy, for a time, and lead to complexity – increasing order – rather than to disorder. However life is ephemeral and entropy wins in the end.

The other system that may produce a state of low entropy is that involved in quantum reality; the sub-atomic level of particles and the BIG BANG.


I cannot even pretend to be able to grasp what the quantum reality is. However others say that it may have some of the characteristics of negative entropy. I quote from the article on that hyperlink.

“Quantum physics seems to allow us to have a cake and eat it, in that it allows us to erase information and cool the environment too.

But this, luckily for the second law (though not for would-be inventors of perpetual motion machines), is not the case. Landauer’s insight is still fine, and erasing information adds entropy to the environment. What saves the second law is that, in quantum physics, entropy can actually be negative. Adding negative entropy is the same as taking entropy away. The key phenomenon behind it is the spookiest of all quantum phenomena, entanglement.”

I have emphasised the phrase “in quantum physics, entropy can actually be negative”. If this is the case then the living state and the quantum state are cases of negative entropy and Darwinism can operate. This is a provocative position to consider in relation to the BIG BANG at which time everything moved from a “singularity” to an expanding or inflationary universe at a speed exceeding the speed of light.

This approach suggests that Darwinism occurs in that quantum transitional state as well as in living things. It is then discussed under the name of Quantum Darwinism for example here and here.


Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief.

Evolutionary epistemology refers to three distinct topics: (1) the biological evolution of cognitive mechanisms in animals and humans, (2) a theory that knowledge itself evolves by natural selection, and (3) the study of the historical discovery of new abstract entities such as abstract number or abstract value that necessarily precede the individual acquisition and usage of such abstractions.

Considering the second of these leads to the whole area of memes that I will consider in the next issue.


My reading uncovered an approach that focuses on the evolution of consciousness as a Darwinian process.

Another article from the same school of thought fascinates me with its approach to the conscious mind and the emergence of creativity.

“Atop a level of codes for objects, one might have a level of relationships (such as simple sentences), and a level of relations among relationships (analogies) atop that. By temporarily stabilizing the intermediate levels, we are sometimes able to tack on an even higher level. A high-level outcome of such a process is what we might want to call consciousness (though the heights vary throughout the day; the relations level may be impossible until after morning coffee). To demonstrate how the cerebral cortex can operate a Darwinian process, and stabilize a new level, I will briefly introduce the essentials of any Darwinian process and then summarize how (the) neocortex can implement one.”

The author of that is William H. Calvin and the article is called “Ephemeral Levels of Mental Organization: Darwinian Competitions as a Basis for Consciousness”. It seems to me to be a core study.

There is a New Scientist article that picks up on this approach and refers to the process of cognitive action involving patterns, pattern recognition and categories. This leads to what is called blending and advanced blending. Analogy, simile, metaphor are types of patterns that may be subject to blending.



POST 10 – 22-03-2014

Black backed magpie - as distinct from white backed variety that is common in more southerly areas.

Black backed magpie – as distinct from white backed variety that is common in more southerly areas.




Over the millennia we humans have striven to develop our mental abilities to improve our chances of survival and especially we have, in relatively recent times, developed educational systems to give our children access to the accumulated learning of the ages.

It is essential for us to be able to recognise differences and similarities in our environment. A familiar event is non-threatening while an unfamiliar event calls for action and needs to be sorted.

While some of the skills needed for this sorting process are inherent, some of the information, knowledge and skills need to be learned from others.

While the role of the teacher in facilitating learning is important it remains true that learning is our own personal responsibility. Each of us learns by personal effort but benefits from a supportive environment. We need to know how we can improve that environment..

If we knew more about how we do learn it might improve the process. Just as coming to know more about the process of biological evolution has led us to be better able to understand and apply that knowledge to improving and protecting our biological environment so also better knowledge of how we learn and how we create new ideas may facilitate our abilities to live more fulfilling lives and to  improve human fruitfulness.

Perhaps knowing more about the mental processes would have shortened the time it took for us to discover how to harness fire, understand the mechanics of the solar system, find out about microbiology, invent sewerage, develop the internet etc.

We already know that it is possible to alter the transmission of nervous impulses across a synapse by the use of drugs to excite or inhibit the transmission rate, to alter mood, and so on. These are quite crude manipulations so far but refinements could well be developed.

As the process of nerve impulse transmission is evolutionary in nature it can be affected at each of its three stages. We may be able to change the rate of replication, the rate of the occurrence of variations and/or the level of competition.

Whatever we might do these three variables will change “naturally”, but also are susceptible to human interference by unintended means or by intentional changes. If we recognise that there is an evolutionary process operating we can design ways to influence its development.


There is a simple explanation of the evolution by natural selection of our human intelligence and our abilities such as consciousness, numeracy, literacy and creative expression. Without these traits we would not have survived in our present form.


A factor common to each of these (and probably some related abilities like curiosity, planning, inventiveness etc.) is the ability to manipulate an image that forms in the mind’s eye. To me, this is the key human ability.


Linking an evolved pathway to the formation of images in the mind is not too difficult as some primitive elements of it seem to have occurred independently in a number of quite distantly related species including insects, fish and mammals. They all have sense organs like ours (and some additional ones such as electricity sensors in some fish) which connect in the nervous system to a response mechanism.


The ability to take a conscious grip on, or have an experience of, the received mental image is difficult to identify in non-human species because they cannot tell us of such subjective matters. If they do have a conscious appreciation of the presence of these images they do not appear to make use of them in ways that humans certainly can and do.


There must have been a precursor of the elephant with the ability to do the critical things that an elephant can do with its trunk. Whatever was inherited by that elephant, there seems no doubt that its, and its descendants, ability was enhanced by subsequent learning how to use that marvelous prehensile organ. At some stage in time there must have been a pre-human being with some sort of ability to manipulate the images that form in the mind.


Before consciousness intervened there must have been image formation as a result of sensory inputs. Preferred fruits, feared predators etc. must have formed images in the mind, and they must have been able to be recalled for comparative purposes when a new impulse hit the nervous system. It would seem that there would need to be no manipulating of these images in a pre-conscious animal and thus no reflection and no “human” consciousness.


I try to imagine this possible, pre-human, ability that allowed a mental image to be manipulated. It appears to me that there must have been incremental steps from an ability to perceive images of the outside world to an ability to see images of those images. To move from that ability to “see” images in the mind’s eye to one where we became capable of being able to manipulate the images with some, however limited, degree of freedom, would seem to require something in the nature of an “emergent” phenomenon,


The incremental nature of evolution by natural selection is accepted and the emergence of new functions of the elephant’s trunk from some precursor prehensile upper lip and nostril is easy to see as the usefulness of a part trunk can be seen in analogous organs such as the trunk of a tapir or even the upper lip of a horse. It is not so easy to see the incremental steps preceding the first manipulation of a mental image.


The concept of an emerging phenomenon offers itself as an explanation. As a sand hill is not a landslide and does not incrementally become a landslide. A landslide suddenly develops as amounts of sand are added and it reaches a necessary combination of physical characteristics of height, angle of its side and dryness which are all related to the size and shape of the grains in its structure. All the precursor elements of size, shape, dryness etc. develop incrementally but the mini-avalanche emerges suddenly. It is an emergent phenomenon.


At some stage of evolved mental infrastructure there must have been a point at which the ability to form layers of nemes combined into some form of complex layers developed. This concept is developed by William H Calvin in a fascinating article that includes the following observations.

“We take great delight in discovering a hidden pattern, whether in a jigsaw puzzle or a subtle work of art; indeed, we often jump to conclusions, finding patterns where none exist. I’ve often been fooled by the wind blowing around the house, hearing speech and assuming that a radio has been left on in another room. The delight in finding hidden patterns is part of what reinforces doing science (and, for that matter, astrology). This operates at both subconscious levels (those poorly heard radio voices) and conscious ones (“seeing” the art).”

He goes on to say:

“And the Darwinian process is particularly good at taking random variations and making new stable configurations, ones that would be highly improbable without the Darwinian algorithm. It can combine concepts such as ‘horse’ and ‘rhinoceros’ to yield imaginary concepts such as ‘unicorn”. Its intermediate stages ought to look something like your nighttime dreams, with their jumble of people, places, and occasions that don’t really fit together very well. When we are awake, we are likely only aware of the highest-quality result.”

I am reminded of the common experience of our stream of consciousness or mind-wandering as exemplified in the recent Leunig cartoon that can be seen in the collection here. It shows the wandering of his character’s thoughts through a day.

And further Calvin said:

“Here I am going to propose that Darwinian processes invent novelties, bootstrap their quality through a series of generations of improvements on the time scale of thought and action. This can happen at a number of levels of organization, constructing a “house of cards” that, while it may eventually collapse, can attain some heights in the meantime.”


“Each neuron has thousands of synapses, producing currents that summate to produce (via a nonlinear input-output transformation) an impulse train. But only rarely does the activity of a single neuron suffice to produce a perception or trigger an action. Mostly, neurons act as members of committees…”

And what he means by levels:

“Levels are best defined by certain functional properties, not anatomy. As an example of four levels, fleece is organized into yarn, which is woven into cloth, which can be arranged into clothing. Each of these levels of organization is transiently stable, with ratchet-like mechanisms that prevent backsliding: fabrics are woven, to prevent their disorganization into so much yarn; yarn is spun, to keep it from backsliding into fleece.”

Apply this to the complexification of nemes and you can see how it could lead to evolved layers of nemes that allow us to manipulate a mental image. Such ability would certainly have offered a survival advantage to its possessor and the survival of that trait, combined with subsequent applications and learning and developments of the skill provided additional selective advantages enabling survival of the trait within the then current environment.

The proposed layers of nemes leads to the suggestion that we are able to blend multiple ideas that are already in our minds, and these blends contain new ideas that didn’t exist before. It would be wonderful if we knew just how to manipulate that process. We are able to produce figments of our imagination, fantasies and brilliant inventions, artistic insights and other imaginings. It seems difficult however to achieve mind control and discipline over our anxieties and ambitions but cognitive behaviour therapy is making some inroads into the area of conscious control of the inner life.

A neme is the mental equivalent of a letter which is the starting layer in its contribution to a word which is a layer in the way to formation of a sentence, a proposition, a text, a language, which is then a layer on the way to formation of a culture. Similarly a neme goes towards a layer of images, or ideas then to a layer of associated categories, to a proposition and maybe eventually to become a new idea, some creative thought or a preme – the precursor of a meme.


The important element is to learn more about how we can intentionally interfere in the process so as to change things and improve them or to counter any undesirable effects. We would set out to know more about the process so that we could act on the nemes, their complexes called ideas and their “brainchildren” called premes (precursors of memes).

The question remains as to how these changes can be applied

I am interested in what I can do to:

  • Change the rate of replication of nemes and their progeny – ideas and premes
  • Change the rate of variation of nemes and their progeny – ideas and premes.
  • Change the level of competition for survival of nemes and their progeny – ideas and premes.

There may be lessons from the field of biological selection that could assist us in the management of memes in the culture. They are items for another day and this POST is about the “neme” within the personal mind. What happens when a “preme” is released into the culture is closely related as its journey also follows the Darwinian path which is able to be accessed in order to produce intended changes.

It seems that we need to assess the possible changes to these elements of the mental process so we can attribute value to each of the possibilities. Clearly we do not want to make ourselves into zombies by our interference. We also should take care in developing an approach as we need to minimise the inevitable backlash from those who oppose each step of scientific progress as being dangerous because any departure may be frustrating to or grievously harmful to things seen as “natural” and thus preferable to anything resulting from any form of human interference. Such has recently been the case with genetically modified foods, the industrial revolution, quantum mechanics among others.

There is need for caution but even the ill-defined “precautionary principle” can be over-emphasised.


It can be difficult to distinguish between “natural” and “unintentional” interference in the mental processes. In genetic evolution, anything done by humans is clearly in the non-natural category but in the case of the mental process it is difficult to distinguish between “natural” and “unintentional” factors because the latter can be the result of the “natural” behaviour of human agents. As well, correction of any unintended interference would require some intentional inputs to correct the undesired effects.


Despite these difficulties I will identify some clearly “unintentional” interferences and later I will refer to “intentional” interference.


We humans have, for ages, been operating our value systems and making decisions that produced changes in our environment. Such changes must have influenced the operation of the natural selection process of the evolution of our mental abilities. When we invented cooking, started farming and settled down instead of following our former nomadic existence we must have changed the selection pressure on the evolutionary process. In more recent times we have controlled the environment so much that we have slowed the evolutionary process very considerable, without, however, changing our ability to evolve.



The elements that we may be able to change are:

  • Replication – we may be able to change the rate of replication.
  • Variation – we may be able to change the frequency of occurrence of errors.
  • Competition – we may be able to change the selection pressure.

Changing the rate of replication of genes in the biological evolutionary process can be achieved by methods including shortening the generational gap, by breeding more frequently or by use of artificial insemination.

Changing the rate of replication of nemes and ideas is possible with the application of various chemicals at the synapse. This is currently quite crude and seemingly dangerous with unclear side effects. In the nervous system we are dealing with an extremely high rate of replication and there may be more benefit in slowing things down than in speeding it up. Meditation while concentrating on a Mantra or on breathing may assist in reducing the rush of the stream of consciousness to allow us to get a grip on things. Are there other ways?

Changing the frequency of occurrence of errors (mutations) of genes in the biological evolutionary process can be achieved by exposing them to radiation or mutagenic chemicals.

Changing the frequency of occurrence of errors of nemes and ideas and premes is possible by the introduction of new nemes and ideas, whether by exposure to new sensory inputs, new ideas or improved recall from the memory. Are there other ways?

Changing the competition for survival is possible by changing the environment affecting survival.

We may be able to change the selection pressure in order to favour survival of new ideas in a variety of ways which should be the focus of further study. What can we do to improve our understanding and our creativity?

We need to know more about the inner environment of our mind in which competition occurs so we can manipulate it.

We have identified various environments that seem to favour learning, science, art, athletic ability etc. Many people have favourite ideas about how to get their own mind focusing on things. Darwin and many others have benefited from a brisk walk to allow thoughts to gel. Writing thoughts down is also popular. Using rigid and structured argument helps some. Mindfulness is a distillation of numerous ideas to help improve concentration. It is defined as being “attentive and aware, non-judgmentally”, whereas meditation is engaging in a mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for spiritual or relaxation purposes.

On a larger scale there is a need for provision of adequate leisure for a society to have enough time to allow at least some citizens to be free to study and develop the ideas of their predecessors. This needs access to the thoughts of others through libraries, the internet etc. Hermits, other recluses, Buddhist or Christian monks, Jewish and Muslim scholars and our modern schools and Universities all have such aims.

Publication of, and acceptance of, codes of behavioural and ethical practice, concepts of social progress and legislation have been developments with mixed success at the national and international level.

Returning to the individual level there is a widely-held concept that education is the key to many of the things that we humans hold dear – from improving employment opportunities, through personal satisfaction, gaining understanding and gaining knowledge, to the ability to understand human aspirations and to encourage human fruitfulness. The learning methods practiced during the last couple of centuries have led to great progress in human affairs. Fewer or at least, smaller, wars, better nutrition, widespread education and more leisure have all happened in that time. While we learnt lots of harmful things including how to blow up our whole civilisation and how to unbalance the climate and deplete many of our resources, we now live longer, more fulfilled lives, at least in a growing proportion of our world.

This evolutionary of the mental process may enable us to learn more so that we can have more control of the mental processes and our ideas with subsequent improved control of our life and that of our culture.

The next POST will look at memes operating in the culture and see how we might apply the understanding of the three elements (replication, variation and competition) to make changes aimed at benefiting the civilising process.





Why children should study philosophy – To encourage critical thinking which is defined as thinking that:

(1)   facilitates judgement because it

(2)   relies on criteria,

(3)   is self-correcting, and

(4)   is sensitive to context.

I would add the need to have an evidence base for the propositions being considered to avoid depending on demonstrating mere plausibility and forming mere opinions not something firmer, perhaps truths.


I was fascinated to read of the cosmological evidence for gravitation waves and for the Big Bang as well as confirmation of Cosmic Inflation. See:

And for some layman’s explanation see:



Perceptions and “qualia”. See:


For a summary article re evolution of consciousness. See:

Blending. Advanced blending. Analogy, simile, metaphor. Pattern recognition. Matching (and mating) of closely related entities and incremental change and standing on shoulders of giants before me…



POST 9 – 15-03-2014


For online version go to

Venus at dawn.

Venus at dawn.

POST 9 – 15-03-2014


For online version go to

  3. IMAGE

In the last POST I talked about a number of replicators that are subject to the evolutionary process and introduced the word “neme” to mean a nervous impulse that replicates at a nerve synapse. The process begins as a stimulus arrives at a sensory receptor – a nerve ending. The neme that is set up at the nerve ending passes through the nerve cell to another synapse and so on and on … until is dealt with by the production of a response that may be unconscious or conscious.

The fate of the neme as it passes through the nervous system is the subject of this POST.


I am using a definition of stimulus as “a detectable change in the internal or external environment”.

Picture a point of light such as my photo of Venus in the morning sky shown above. The photons from that light act as a stimulus when they are detected by receptors in your retina and set off, in individual neurons, an electrochemical signal, or neme, that is sent through the neuron to the next synapse and on to the central nervous system where it is processed and may be selected for storage in the memory or in the case of some stimuli may set off a more immediate response signal such as the blink reflex, knee-jerk reflex or the startle reflex. Much work has gone into examining what happens in the mind as it processes but I am not entering into a discussion about the detailed work of neuroscience.


I will draw on what we each of us personally can experience about what is happening inside there and how much we can influence what happens to the inputs from our nervous system. In other words, what is the fate of a neme? My view is that a neme undergoes a process that recapitulates the biological evolutionary process. In milliseconds a neme goes through numerous replications and is affected by inputs from other nerves as it combines with other nemes to lead to formation of our percepts (perceptions of) the reality we see out there.

(A percept is a mental impression of something perceived by the senses, viewed as the basic component in the formation of concepts; a sense datum).

The percepts we experience are formed by the combined inputs of out sensory nerve endings and their interactions in the mind including those originating in the inner environment.

This takes me back to the image of the pin-point of light that is the photo of Venus at the top of this POST.

I can see this image out there in the photo and I perceive it as a real photo of a spot of light that I am assured is a photo of a planet. I can also “see” this image in my mind’s eye and, here is the big difference, I can manipulate it into any form I wish. I can make it different colours. I can make it double spots, or can stretch it out into a line. I can make it flash on and off and can make it go away. All this is done by my own choice within my “mind’s eye”. So what?

  1. IMAGE

The images that are formed in the mind can be described in a number of ways and it appears that all these descriptions are similes, analogies or metaphors. It is difficult to do anything else as there is no way at present to describe the waves of nemes that flood our brain and light up in the output from various scanning machines such as fMRI.

The nemes have their effects combine in a manner not unlike that of living beings that have evolved multicellularity; specialised cells, tissues and organs; social systems and forms of communication. The result of this activity, however it is constructed, is that we can form a variation of the images we get “naturally” and manipulate it at will.

There is certainly an evolutionary survival advantage in this ability which allows us to exercise control over the environment both external and internal. This ability is the big advantage for humanity that has enabled us to become the creatures we are.

I will not go into the control of the external environment but I am fascinated by the extent to which we can control our inner life.


There are many interesting things I can do with other mental images I have formed.

I can access my memory of the scientific evidence for the changes in the Cosmos that have led us to where we are in the grand scheme of things. I can look at that evidence and can speculate about its implications. I can formulate my own theories about what it all means and can restate a position or idea in a new proposition of my own invention.

This new idea is in my mind and in order to communicate it to others it needs to be made into a suitable format. Words or behaviours or artefacts are among the ways to do this. Are there other ways?

The new idea in my mind may be quite incoherent but in order for it to be able to be examined carefully it seems to me that it will have to be expressed to myself as a question or a proposition. It seems to me that I will benefit from formulation of the new idea as a proposition so that I can examine it carefully.

The newly formulated proposition, while still in my mind is what I call a preme – the precursor of a meme. Once it has left my mind it may becomes a meme and is on its way into the culture where it may or may not survive in competition with other memes.

The progeny of nemes in my mind are percepts, thoughts, ideas, images, propositions. Creativity is the term we use to describe the outcome of the process of spelling out an innovation.

Speculation may lead to a new theory from which may emerge something approaching a “Eureka!” moment or an “Aha!” moment or even a “Road to Ephesus” moment. Of course it may exhibit itself in a more mundane way without the drama, but however it arrives, it is a creative event.

Some might attribute the experience of such a new idea to a divine influence but others may see it as a natural result of the incremental process of learning – standing on the shoulders of giants of our memories of past thoughts.

I could satisfy myself with keeping this creative idea inside the privacy of my own mind but if I wish to communicate it to others it will need to be formulated into an image of some sort. Words or an artefact are the most usual method. The artefact may be a work of art or craft and there may be other ways to communicate but I will take as my paradigm of communication of a new idea to be the formulation and presentation of a new proposition.

In all this I return to what I consider to be the critical element of the creative moment, namely the formation in my mind of something that appears to me to be new.

Some such creative propositions may pop up, seemingly from nowhere. I suggest that this is extremely unlikely if not impossible. It is just as unlikely or impossible for a new species of being to pop up from nowhere without predecessors.

All this means that it is hard work to generate new propositions even when all the preparation has been done.

If I am correct in saying that nemes are subject to an evolutionary process in my mind, then each neme will be prone to variation at a synapse and any variant will be subject to selection pressure which may allow it to survive in the turmoil of the mental environment.

The additive (or perhaps multiplicative) effect of nemes combining into ideas and propositions is, to a limited extent, accessible to me. I can manipulate them. I can speculate and reformulate them. I may come up with something new – a creative idea.

Just as the sensory inputs result in the formation of an image in my mind – the primary image –  that is a representation (a percept) of the source of the sensory input (such as the photo of Venus), so also my mind’s eye is able to form a secondary image that represents a primary image. It appears that I have little incentive to form a precept that is anything but an accurate representation of the outside source of stimulation, but there are lots of reason why I should choose to manipulate the secondary image.

In my next POST I will look at ways in which we might be able to manipulate this process so as to improve the creative process.


The Beginning of Life. Was life on Earth kick-started by hot water?

An extract. “Living cells act as rechargeable batteries: they take in chemicals as fuel and convert them to usable energy. This energy drives the chemical reactions within the cell (its metabolism).”

Co-author of the research paper Terry Kee said: “In terms of the way in which the [living cells’] energy is generated and used, it is very similar to a fuel cell and the process in a hydrothermal vent.”

Hydrothermal vents are openings in the planet’s surface through which heated water flows. The energy that vents generate, combined with chemical compounds found in gases and minerals, may have led to the emergence of cell metabolism on Earth.”

Will logic or opinion convert the climate deniers? Facts won’t beat the climate deniers – using their tactics will.

An extract. “Opinions are a cornerstone of human communication. They may be based on obvious, acceptable, objective evidence, or they may not. There will be opinions with which you agree, disagree, or don’t care. Regardless, they are intrinsic to the way humans interact – at work, chatting over dinner, everywhere.”



POST 8 – 9-03-2014

For online version go to


Eucalyptus in a Sydney garden

Eucalyptus in a Sydney garden








In the last post I looked at the biological selection process and divided it into natural and artificial. In order to be classified as a “selection” process the three conditions that must be met are replication, variation and competition. Natural selection goes on whether humans have any input or not. Artificial (human) inputs may be unintentional or intentional.

This time I am looking at the gene based selection process that occurs in the biological system and relate it to that which occurs with cultural elements (memes) and in the nervous system (nemes). “Neme” is my own coined descriptor for this element.

In each case the replicator is a package of coded information that is subject to change or variation. Each replica is transmitted to its next replication step and then the next and so on until it eventually competes for survival in a population of its relatives.

In the case of genes the variant is transmitted through the “host” living being that carries it through to its next replication and so on into the population of related beings where it competes for its place.

With memes there is a difference in that the meme does not result in the growth and development of a host. However the vehicle or host is a person, who transmits the concept or “brainchild” through to its next replication by another person and so on into the population of behaviours and artifacts which is the culture where it competes for its place.

With nemes the replicator is the electrochemical signal that passes across the synapse and then moves through the nerve cell (neuron) until it eventually competes with the population of others of its own kind for its place in the formation of thoughts, percepts or ideas etc., which are the “brainchildren” that may become the precursor of a meme. Should I call that item at that stage, just as it is released, a “preme” – a precursor of a meme?

1.      GENES

Genes are subject to replication at a rate that varies with the entity involved and with the environment. The rate of occurrence (frequency) of each replication step influences the likelihood of genetic change (mutation) occurring. Mutation may occur randomly or as the result of the action of a mutagenic agent such as radiation or particular chemicals. The rate of occurrence of mutation varies with the entity involved and with the environment. The selection pressure from the environment varies enormously. These range from challenges that develop over millennia to the change in the colour of the bark of trees in Northern England following the industrial revolution. This colour change selected for the increased prevalence of moths with dark coloured wings that, as a result, were better camouflaged.

Genes propagate through reproduction from a parent (host) to an offspring to a population.

About gene frequency.

A variant of a gene is expressed in its host which must compete in its environment with a resultant increase of the gene’s prevalence in the population.

2.      MEMES

A meme is an element of a culture or system of behaviour that is replicated as it is passed from one individual to another by speech, writing, imitation or other non-genetic means. Meme transmission requires a physical medium, such as photons, sound waves, touch, taste or smell because memes can be transmitted only through the senses.

Memes propagate through transmission in speech writing etc., from one communicator (host) to another and so into the population of memes.

Memes are subject to replication as they are formulated by the “speaker” for being passed from person to person via various media – spoken, written or otherwise. Copying errors may occur and the error rate varies with the media involved – written material being safer than spoken material – for example. Some of the errors are capable of survival for reasons similar to those involved with genes – they are fit enough to survive and are advantageous in the “environment”.

It may be difficult to distinguish between natural and unintentional artificial selection when dealing with such an intimately human process as meme transmission.

Unlike a gene, a meme does not need a host to survive and pass it on. It performs this function for itself and may survive because the change is advantageous to itself.

About meme frequency.

A variant of a meme does not depend upon a host but must compete in its environment of the culture with a resultant increase of the meme’s prevalence in the population.

3.      NEMES

A neme is my own term coined to identify nerve impulses as replicators as they course through the nervous system ending up as an idea or concept that, when issued by the “speaker”, may become a “meme” in the culture. I use the term neme to apply to the nerve impulse that is the fundamental element in the operation of the nervous system.

Nemes propagate through transmission at the synapse of a nerve impulse from one nerve cell to another.

Successful memes are stored in the memory may trigger action at the unconscious level or may affect our conscious mind and require us to make a decision, a choice.

The genetic process is incremental in nature and each variant must emerge from the gene makeup of its predecessors. It cannot appear from nowhere. Similarly a neme is constructed from its predecessors and a new creative idea does not pop up altogether new without connections. Similarly a meme is the progeny of other memes or of nemes.

Isaac Newton famously said in response to praise about his contribution to science

“If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of giants.” It appears that each creative moment has its predecessors.

About neme frequency.

A variant of a neme does not depend upon a host but must compete with other nemes in the environment of the central nervous system with a resultant increase of the neme’s prevalence in the population.

Think of the progressive complexity of each of these replicators.

Through the interactions that occur as the impulse is affected by inputs through the numerous synapses that connect to each nerve cell. See: Nicholls, J.G. et al (2011). From Neuron to Brain. 5th Ed. Sinauer Associates Inc. The wide range of contributions by inputs through the synapses in various parts of the central nervous system are complex and still inadequately understood by the experts – and much less by me.

As genes populate a species and words populate a language so also nemes populate thoughts and ideas inside the mind of the thinker.

A sub-atomic particle contributes to an atom which contributes to a molecule of an element which contributes to a mineral which contributes to the earth, the sea or the atmosphere or to an inorganic material that contributes to a vegetable or an animal (or a fungus, virus, etc.)

The four bases, cytosine (C), thymine (T), adenine (A) and guanine (G) give the DNA its coded information. DNA contributes its information to the genes which direct the construction of proteins which direct the formation of the living being that will grow and develop into a generator of another replication step.

So also a letter or a word contributes to the message that is a meme which contributes to the culture which contributes to the cultural life of humanity.

Similarly a neme is subjected to complexity and gains by the challenges in its environment, the mind. The progeny of nemes are percepts, thoughts, ideas, imagination, propositions and creativity.


Examples of other replicators are numerous but I suggest that the English Common Law and the Marketplace are interesting cases.

The Common Law is defined in one legal dictionary as:

The principles and rules of action, embodied in case law rather than legislative enactments, applicable to the government and protection of persons and property that derive their authority from the community customs and traditions that evolved over the centuries as interpreted by judicial tribunals.

And further:

Common-law courts base their decisions on prior judicial pronouncements rather than on legislative enactments. Where a statute governs the dispute, judicial interpretation of that statute determines how the law applies. Common-law judges rely on their predecessors’ decisions of actual controversies, rather than on abstract codes or texts, to guide them in applying the law.

To my mind this is a case where a judicial pronouncement is a replicator, variation is introduced as judgments are made on new cases and then undergo challenge at appeal and undergo competition in the environment of the courts which are fundamentally adversarial.

A market is an actual or nominal place where forces of demand and supply operate, and where buyers and sellers interact (directly or through intermediaries) to trade goods, services or contracts or instruments, for money or barter. In this case the transaction or the price may be seen as the replicator, the variation occurs as price fluctuates (due to perceived or real views as to the relative value of items being bought and sold), and the competition of the marketplace is renowned.

5.      READINGS


I mentioned in an earlier post that I consider that:

  • I” am unique – I am not anyone else.
  • “I” am constant – I was present to myself yesterday and I will still be me tomorrow.

A few commentators questioned those propositions and so I offer the discussion of personal identity from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to help (or confuse) the issue. I also suggest the doubters should consider the status of two salt crystals which are chemically identical but each have a separate existence which persists over time.


A development of my theme about some types of replication being subject to human interference is considered in “Evolving the Future: Toward a Science of Intentional Change” by David Sloane Wilson.


While gravitation is recognised as one of the four (with electromagnetic, strong nuclear and weak nuclear) forces or attractions in our universe, gravity waves are suspected to exist but no direct evidence has been found. The latest suggestions bring us closer to that discovery.


See a good article on Political emotions. They really matter and politicians of all stripes exploit us. Our emotional life is influenced by our animal natures as well as our culture and our own experiences.


Renewable energy resources provide the only prospect we humans have when the finite resources in the ground run out and are the only alternative to continually increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

I thought the article here showed a good indicator of the prospects.

The conclusion is:
That leaves 6 renewable energy possibilities: wind, solar PV, concentrating solar thermal, geothermal, wave and tidal, all of which have challenges such as intermittency or limited growth potential.

“There is no single silver-bullet energy source capable of replacing conventional fossil fuels directly (at least until the problem of intermittency can be overcome) though several of the sources discussed already serve, or are capable of serving, as secondary energy sources.”

“This means that as fossil fuels deplete, and as society reduces reliance on them in order to avert catastrophic climate impacts, we will have to use every available alternative energy source strategically,” it concludes. “Instead of a silver bullet, we have in our arsenal only BBs, each with a unique profile of strengths and weaknesses that must be taken into account.”

There is a good article by Peter Mares about the ACT prison in which he considers why we put people in prison. It is five years since Canberra’s innovative Alexander Maconochie Centre admitted its first group of prisoners. Peter Mares visited to see if the facility is living up to its aim of being Australia’s first “human rights compliant” prison.

Evolution – replication – variation – competition – selection






            1.2 VARIATION

            1.3 COMPETITION





In the last post I outlined the changes that resulted from the operation of the evolutionary process that led from the primitive cell to humans. This time I am discussing the critical elements of natural selection and also a number of other natural processes that share those critical elements as well as the related processes that occur when we humans interfere in those natural processes.




From the first description of the process of natural selection Darwin distinguished between natural and artificial selection and also separated the latter into unconscious selection and methodical selection. More recent authors have followed this classification while providing more details of the steps of the processes. The philosopher Daniel Dennett in his article “New Replicators”  quotes Darwin as saying that, if there is “descent [i.e., replication] with modification [variation]” and “a severe struggle for life” [competition], better-equipped descendants will prosper at the expense of their competitors.

Dennett says that evolution can occur whenever and wherever three conditions are met:

•           Replication,

•           Variation (mutation), and

•           Differential fitness (competition).


Dennett then asks whether any other evolutionary substrates have arisen on this planet. He responds to his own question: “The best candidates are the brainchildren, planned or unplanned, of one species: Homo sapiens”. Others have suggested more candidates for evolving systems with their own replicators including the immune system, neural development, and trial and error learning”.


Richard Dawkins identified and coined the term “meme” in his 1976 book “The Selfish Gene” and the term has caught on. Dennett provides a definition of a meme as a “general term for a culturally based replicator”.


The efficacy of each component in producing change in subsequent generations depends upon the rate of replication, the frequency of variations and the pressure of competition.



      All the possible replicators have in common that they are systems where serial duplication or copying occurs (called replication), copying errors can occur (variation) and those variants that are able to survive the competitive pressures do in fact survive and replicate further. The critical element in a replicator in this process seems to be that it comprises a package of coded information or message that is copied serially. That is, it is not a simple matter of making repeated copies from an original but the copy is then copied and that one is copied and so on … and so on…


Replication may occur at a rate varying with the organism involved and with the situation. A virus, in favourable circumstances, reproduces frequently with outputs of over 100,000 daughter cells in a day or two. This means that there are very short generation intervals with an associated high replication rate. Human generation interval is usually taken to be 25 years and thus the opportunity for a variant to occur happens much less frequently.

            1.2 VARIATION

Variation as a result of copying errors is part of our common experience and is perhaps most clearly expressed by incidents such as the yarn which has three “older” men walking along a beach. The first guy says “It is windy today”. The second guy says “No, it’s not, it’s Thursday”. The last guy says “So am I, so let’s go and have a beer”.

Similarly a small error in copying down a friend’s favourite a recipe could lead to an error which could lead to a major difference in outcome.

The rate at which such errors occur in the natural setting varies from organism to organism and will affect the outcome for the variant. The influenza viruses are renowned for the high rate of variation resulting from mutations and re-combination, that enables then to survive challenges such as in the face of high antibody levels in a population.

In a growing and developing organism mutation may affect both the germ-line and the somatic cell line. Germ-line mutations are passed to offspring while somatic cell line mutations lead, in the individual, to various blemishes and cancer, which affect the individual but do not become part of the germ-line.


            1.3 COMPETITION

Most mutations are detrimental and do not survive and may be lethal for the organism. However some survive and, if it happens to produce a change in the individual that happens to suit its survival, then it may increase its incidence in the population (or sub-population).

Selection pressure is the terminology that is used to describe the influence that affects the survival of those variants that face up to environmental challenge.


If a replicator is subject to variation and the variants are exposed to competition for survival then evolutionary change may occur. It is important to accept that we humans can influence that process but there is a natural process that will occur in the absence of human intervention. Darwin’s great insight followed his appreciation of what was being achieved by animal and plant breeders when he made the link with the biological evidence he accumulated. Having the Darwinian insight in place, we today, must understand that the process of natural selection will go on “naturally” whenever a replicator is subject to variation and competition.

            2.1 NATURAL

Natural (free from human intervention) selection will go on in all replicators and in order to understand what we are doing when we interfere in such a process it is important to understand the “natural” process. It is also important to know whether or not a selection process is going on or is even possible at all. The knowledge that replication is not restricted to the genetic process is important.

            2.2 ARTIFICIAL

If we recognise that the process is going on anyway it behoves us to recognise its operations if we are to interfere. How to interfere effectively becomes an important issue. We already interfere in two ways. Unintentionally we have always interfered in plant and animal genetics including by altering environments and by moving them around to new environments. And in human culture we have developed world views in an attempt to explain what we see in our world. Adherents to some of those world views attempt to promulgate them and to convert others to their view. Such human activity has an ethical dimension that I will look at in later posts.

                        2.2.1 UNCONSCIOUS (UNINTENTIONAL)

Domestication of plants and animals is the major example of human unintended interference with the natural process. We changed the environment and animals adapted to it both by acclimatising and by genetic change as their traits were favoured by the new environment.

The grey winged moths which camouflaged themselves when lying on the bark of grey trees in northern parts of England evolved a black variety as the trees became coated with soot as the industrial revolution progressed in that area.

By altering farming land with measures such as tree clearing and drainage of soils we have had a side-effect of pushing some plant and animal species towards extinction while others have thrived in the new environment.


                        2.2.2 METHODICAL (INTENTIONAL)

The sciences of plant and animal genetics are designed to alter that genotype of the species by speeding up the reproduction rate, increasing the variation rate and increasing the selection pressure on the less fit individuals. These steps are designed to increase the prevalence of the desirable genotypes in the population. Thus meat chickens that took 12 weeks to grow to a marketable size a few decades ago now achieve that state in 42 days and use a lot less feed to do so.

Genetic engineering sets out to achieve the same ends by manipulating the genes at a fundamental level.



I will look at two non-genetic replicators in my next POST. The selection process that occurs in “memes” has been much written about but the precursor to a meme is the “brainchild” mentioned by Dennett. The process by which a meme is generated in the mind of an individual has not been identified as a replicator – to my knowledge. I identify the initial nervous impulse that is established at the sensory nerve ending as the replicator which is copied at each synapse through which it passes on its journey to the central nervous system and through the processing centres in the central system then back through the motor nerves resulting in behaviour and through the brain/mind resulting in our greatest attribute, our imagination – our inner life.

Following Dawkins’ invention of the word ”meme” to identify the cultural replicator I am coining the word “neme” to identify the nerve impulse as the replicator in the nervous system.


I have re-read Daniel C. Dennett’s article “New Replicators”.

What sets humanity apart? Stephen Cave says it is the ability to cooperate.

How did life originate is examined.

Attempts to reproduce prebiotic conditions include those made by researchers who worked on the Los Alamos bug.