POST 8 – 9-03-2014

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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.

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