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© by Josip Pajk, June 1998.
Homepage on TRIPOD


I would, first of all, like to thank all the people, even if not listed in the references below, of whose thoughts I had the privilege to sense a little by reading their works. This relates particulary to the people envolved in the JoM discussion list. Than, I would like to thank all the people that are responsible for taking "alive" the Net with all its beautiful islands of knowledge I had (and have) the chance to visit. The words below are nothing else but the diary of my impressions from the journies taken insofar. Thanks.


In this paper I made an attempt to operationalize memetics by reconciliating it again with genetics. I also introduced the, in my opinion, "missing shackle" in the memetic chain, the meme cell, as the basic system for meme replication and environmental (between systems) interaction. Memes and genes are in this paper seen as passive forms produced and replicated in different substrates by their cell systems. These systems are also the basic interactors in their particular environments. The process of interaction is seen here slightly different, not solely as "competitonal", but is argued that it can be also "cooperational" giving life to more complex systems or higher (meta)system operational levels. Further, on the assumtion that interaction take place not only between (dynamic) systems but also between (static) structures, a conclussion is made that memes are rate independent form structures interacting exclusively with the resource structures inside the limits of their systems' boundaries.


A lot of words have been spent the last twenty years in the discussion if memes are active (self-)replicators as Dawkins first (vaguely) defined them in analogy to genes, or are they Giselin's passive replicanda (see Wilkins 5.), or although they are replicators have also interaction capabilities like H. Cees-Speel (3.) argues in his papers. M. Vaneechoutte in his recent paper (1.) made an attempt in defining memes as passive replicas (replicanda, replicata, replicates) or "bits of cultural information (which) are processed, replicated and transmitted by human minds, photocopiers, presses, computernetworks, etc". In the same paper he further states that "living cells are the only self replicators on Earth" and he further proposes:

"to adopt a terminology which is also used in information theory (and related fields like cybernetics) and to drop words like genotype, phenotype, replicator, interactor and vehicle, which have the disadvantage of poorly reflecting the dynamics and interactions which occur between biological processors and between biology and culture and which are in many cases strongly misguiding."

Even if I agree that information theory may and must be used in memetics because information theory is (for now) the only which provides an usable method of information quantification, my strong belief is that it is not necessary to make such a drastic change of direction and "divorce" memetics from genetics when a different point of view should show that their "marriage" is not in a so a critical state.

In this short paper I would like to "save" this gene-meme (co)relation and present some poorly structuralized thoughts of mine already introduced (and, by my fault, mostly misunderstood or neglected) in my previous discussions on the JoM list and in some earlier works. It might seem to someone that my point of view is "heretical" and dangerous for memetic science but I hope my weak linguistic resources will be enough to adequately present this proposal for a memetic framework in a light that will perhaps remove such "fears". My only intention was to preserve the results of the great work done until now by others in memetics with making an attempt to produce a firm (usable) framework in which an appropriate solid place could be found for all the good ideas presented insofar.


The interactor/replicator confusion in memetics and genetics, as I see it, arises from the fact that in memetics it is supposed (but never, as far as I know, explicitly stated) that memes and genes share the same environment, the world of substance. As a result from this assumption many authors' state is that memes can be instantiated even in substrates like books, CD's, etc. But in such a case, a question can be put, how can they "replicate themselves" or maybe even be involved in interaction processes. In my opinion, the only environment where memes could be submitted to processes similar to the genetic ones, is (for now) the human mind, or better, the world of form it supports. But, it would be rather wrong to reduce the whole of memetics science to mind neural (substrate) processes explanation only because without this biological activity of the brain there would be no memes at all. I would rather follow the "father of memetics", Dawkins in his line of thought and make a further step in his speculation like that: the selfish genes must had have "invented" or engineered memes through the process of the evolution of species only for the reason of preserving the continuity (lineage) of their form in another kind of substrate in the case when organic substance will be extinguished from this part of the Universe. Is it not artificial intelligence on this branch of the evolutionary tree? Isn't this the reason why the meme vs. gene analogy was so obvious to Dawkins and to all the others in memetics?

But, apart this, maybe logical but entirely metaphysical, speculation, let's give a look how memes and genes "works" in their (different) environments.

In genetics (as I had a chance to understood it), not the gene but the cell (like Vaneechoutte exactly states) is the basic replication system. The genetic form of the cell (genotype) get replicated by the cell in another cell entity produced with the resources find in the cell's (system) environment. Cells of the same genotype are "replicated" but also interact with other so produced cells in the construction (co-production) of a complex multicelular organism which is, actually, also the only environment for these cells. The so produced organism (phenotype) as a complex multicelular entity interacts with other similarly produced multicelular systems on another (meta)system level in the biosphere environment. Thus, the cell is the basic replicating and interacting system in genetics which preserves the form of the genotype and by this the whole of the gene pool. The organism by preserving its form (on the level) of the phenotype, which, if successful in the interaction process in the biosphere, will survive and continue its lineage, intermediately preserves the most successful genotypes, affecting in this manner also the content of the gene pool.

In the process of reproduction (sorry for this brutal simplification) an egg cell get fertilized or "infected" by a sperm (virus) cell triggering in such manner the mutation of the original cell and the production process of other cells which will mutually interact in the construction and preservation of another unique living organism (phenotype) or the complex entity (system) that will interact with other similarly produced entities in the same environment (biosphere) they all share and change with their presence (living). The genotype of this entity has a unique form defined by the recombination of the first two cells "genetic material" (genes). The process of fertilization is happening (outside from genetic labs) by chance. Any of this two cells brings only one half of the genetic information that will be involved in the production of the new entity. The egg and the sperm cell must be produced by entities of the same species (compatible) in order to be "associated". The egg cell must have in its substantial structure the necessary basic resources to start and support the first phases of the production process. After that the new entity will start an independent life (interaction) with other entities in the environment using the resources found (retrieved, captured) from that environment. A mature entity will perhaps find another appropriate entity to fertilize for the continuation of their species. At last, old entities will die leaving (producing) more space (resources) for their descendants.

What I would like to stress here is that a new interacting entity (system) is produced by another system (entity) of the same kind using the resources from the environment. The cells that are involved in the reproduction before the fertilization are static systems (structures) completely susceptible to environmental states. They have no mean to survive in the environment by themselves. Only by their interaction (fertilization) a self-organized dynamic system (cell) could be born capable to adequately interact with the environmental resources from outside of the system in a way which will increase its organizational level.

In individual(1) memetics a dynamic form (state) of the mind (meme cell) "get fertilized" or "infected" by the form of some observed text, phrase, behaviour (artifact) triggering the production process of another meme cell that will interact with other mind states(2) in the same mind giving life in such manner to a unique meme complex (Lynch 2.) or belief. Compatible meme complexes in the same mind acting as their only environment are forming something like a phemotype (Wilkins 5.) as a self-organized dynamic entity (system) interacting on another system level, in the environment of culture as a system. The process of memetic "fertilization" or "infection" is here also happening by chance. The mind have to be in the state that is susceptible to infection by the form of the artifact observed in that particular moment. That is, the form of the observed artifact (or behavioural process) have to make a difference to that mind state. Neither the form of the observed artifact, nor the state of the host's mind before the "infection" are only by themselves enough for the production of a new meme cell. The new state of mind is "born" only if both portions of information (differences) are present in making a new difference. The state of the mind and the observed form must be of the same type (i.e. language, known, similar forms) in order to be associated or understood, to produce a difference (be fertilized). In the mind environment there must already be present some resources (memories, mind states, mnemones) necessary to start and support the first phases of the new state of mind production. After that, the meme cell will start an independent life (in an autopoietic contemplation) competing for the resources that could be found (retrieved) in that same mind (environment) producing new meme cells in an organized meme complex. A mature meme complex will perhaps produce a behaviour of the body for the production of the artifacts (speech, text, behaviour) which will maybe fertilize another mind giving life in it to a meme cell (complex) of the same specie. At last, an old meme cell will die (be forgotten) in order to leave more space (and produce new resources) for other, new born meme cells.

The analogy between memes and genes is found here in the fact that both need a substantial machinery (organized systems) and (which is frequently forgotten) an environment full of resources in order to interact and get replicated. Genes are far more easier to understand because the systems they use and the environment in which they build their systems are made from "real" physical, tangible, organic substance, while memetic systems and their environment are more "imaginary", made of form. It is true, however, that there is no form without substance to which it could be applied, but there is neither (memetic) form without a system to which a "difference (in the form) could make a difference (in its state)". There could exists, however, substance "without form", substance that do not make a difference to anyone. A book forgotten on some shelf in a library or a seed that didn't manage to "find" an appropriate (fertile) environment is such a substantial structure. In other words, the difference in some physical structure have not a form for itself, it can only inform another structure (system) or make a difference to it. We call this process information transmission, while the enough appropriate term could be simply information, for the process of bringing something in a particular (wanted) form. But the term information have today another meaning and insisting on such a change of terminology would maybe produce more confusion than anything else, so I would not insist on this subject too strongly.

Furthermore, the "same" form can be represented (transduced) in different substances (Speel 3.). This, exactly the same, flow of words you are reading, instead of on your display, could be in front of you in a printed form (or better, formatted structure) on a piece of paper. But, unfortunately, regardless of what substance is used there is no guarantee that the dynamics of the differences in this structure made up from words will produce in your mind the "same" form as it exists in mine (two different memetic environments, with different states and resources). It is basically the same thing as when two seeds of the "same" form implanted in two different kind of earth will produce plants of the same kind but of different quality. One will probably die while the other will live with a full life. The difference in this case could be found only in their different environments.

Maybe it will be easier to understand the presented meme/gene analogy viewpoint if the "right" question is asked:

What is the environment of some (any) system?

I would define the environment as the space outside of the system's boundaries from which the system retrieves the resources needed for its existence, growth and work, or for the preservation (increase) of its organization. The organizational level of the environment for dynamic systems as the human mind certainly is, must be lower (more chaotic) than that of the system, so the system could retrieve the needed resources from it. Structures from the environment must be disintegrated and "digested" by the system in order to be incorporated in its structure. The only environment for memes (meme cells) in the present state of evolution is the human mind instatiated in the organism's neural substrate and the informational resources there produced and stored through the lifetime of the body as a whole. Without and out of this environment there are no memes. Culture as a "higher level" self-organized system could not exist without the interaction of human minds as complex multicelular (memetic) systems. But, the characteristics of culture as a system can't be reduced to those of the minds that are forming it. An organized group of individuals as a system have some properties that can not be reduced to or explained by the set of all its subsystems' (individuals') properties, but is also defined by the way in which they are organized.

Like genes who need "biological" organic material, memes need a special kind of this material in a form of self-organized, dynamic, conscious systems in order to exist and evolve. It is only a present step on the evolutionary tree that this material is of organic provenience. In some future evolutionary steps this could be some hybrid or entirely "artificial" material. The substrate could (and probably will) change but the form, or better the genetic/memetic informational pool will remain always the same if the gene/meme "selfishness" will be fit enough in the process of evolution to find (or produce) more different systems able to proliferate (replicate) themselves and defeat entropy during their limited lifetime period.


First, I must say that I do not agree with Vaneechoutte that the cell is the only replicating system on Earth, neither do I agree with the widely used term of self-replication. Form can be replicated but substance don't. So, if "self" is here for the form of a structure it would be maybe correct to speak about self-replication. But because, as stated before, for the replication of some form a proper system (replicator) and some kind of resources must exist, there can be no such processes like self replication of a system or a structure. Neither systems nor structures can replicate themselves. Only systems can produce new (static) structures or systems of the "same" form. Resource substance can be only structured by this production process in a new organized form or system. However, in this forms some regularities can be identified, but the forms are not the "same". Even when a copy is made on a copy machine (replicating system) the form of the original is copied on another piece of paper (substrate) using other resources from that of the original. It is not self-replication at all. Replication is a process of producing a new entity (copy) having the "same" form. As it always happens in any production process, there are no guaranties that the form of the copy will be identical to those of the original. Sometimes this fact is forgotten and as a result information is defined as something different from matter and energy because the "same" information can be on two places in the same time, at the source and at the destination, on the original and on the copy. But there is no information without matter and energy and the difference that the difference in their substantial structures makes (produces) to other more or less organized structures (systems). As stated before, for the description of "information transmission" the term information would be maybe enough, for describing the process of bringing some substance (or substrate) in a particular form. What is actually transmitted through the channell structure are material or energy signal structures bringing another structure at the destination in the (wanted?) form.

A cell as a system do not make a copy of itself, it is making a copy of its (genetic) form using the substance (resources) from its environment or by splitting the structure of the substance from which it is made in two different structures of the "same" form. In sexual "replication" two entities of different sex produce and "deliver" an organized (static) portion of their system's substance in an appropriate environment for the production of a new entity. This two cells maybe have a major part of the information needed for performing the process of a new entity production but have not the resources that have to be extracted from their appropriate (not of any kind) environment. A mother that is addicted to drugs will give life to an addicted child. The information for this addiction of the new-born organism is not contained in the genetic form of the mother's egg cell or the father's sperm cell, but in the resources used in the very first phases of the new life production.

So, replication is a process performed by some replication systems (replicators). The products of replication are structures or systems of the same form regularity called replicas, replicata or replicates. Their form is maybe the "same" (in respect to the quality of the replication process) but they are all made from different substance. Moreover, the substance can be even of a completely different type. A form is transformed if the copy is made of the same kind of substance as the original, or can be transduced if the replicated form is produced in some other kind of substance (3.). Sometimes such copies are called models of the "real" system (structure).

Interaction is a process that happens not only between systems, but also between structures and between systems and structures. Interaction between two systems (a game) happens when they are struggling for the same resources. They can fight to death for them (zero sum games) or can share them making more complex symbiotic systems, etc. Two structures interacts mainly "spontaneously" if not directed by some system. The "spontaneous" interchange of matter and energy constrained only by natural (physics and chemistry) laws is an example of such interaction processes (see my "Form and Substance" 6.). Systems and structures interaction can be pictured as when the wheels in some system as a car in a cyclic process are interacting with the linear (static) structure of the road producing the process of movement (see paragraph 6. in I. Epistemological Fundaments of 4. by Maturana and others).

I would not like to "burden" this paper with the analysis of various interaction processes, but what I would like to stress here about this issue is that unlike replication which can be performed only by systems, interaction is a process that can be performed even by "simple" (static) structures. In this the basic difference between life and non-life can be found, and a deeper analysis of non-live interaction (chemical) processes would maybe give a good answer to the everlasting question: "How could life arise from non-life?". A first "draft" for this answer following my discussions in 6. could be: "In the same manner like systems could arise from static structures".


How it could be that in the human brain substrate both the memetic system and the resources are present? The non-substantial nature of mind is the reason why mind is such a hard task to find and locate in the substance of the brain. It is all matter of how the system is defined. From the discussion until now we could define the meme cell as a (self)organized system which interacts with other systems (meme cells) and make other meme cells (replicas) using the resources found in the mind environment. These resources are other mind states that are not such perfectly organized in meme systems (memories, sensations, unstructuralized thoughts, intuitions, fears). "Loosing the mind" does not mean that some portion of its substance is lost or gone somewhere. The substance is all there. What get lost is its organization. So, if meme cells are organized mind states, other less organized mind states might be the resources that these meme cells use for the preservation of their organization. Sensations from the "outside" are constantly increasing these resources. Meme cells organized in more "fit" meme complexes use these resources as "food" for their systems. So it is perfectly normal that meme cells and whole meme complexes can "die" inside this environment if they can not find the appropriate "food" to preserve their life and growth. Moreover, some meme cells can "fight" for the same resources in a particular mind or "cooperate" with other meme cells to increase their chance of survival. So it is also perfectly normal for whole memetic individuals to "die" in a particular (living) biologic entity (by rejecting some belief or meme complex), and a new memetic individual to be "born" in the same body, like a Catholic becoming a Mormon or an atheist.


It is (maybe) easier now to find some regularities between memes and genes. Both genes and memes are forms informed in different substrates. As structuralized forms they can not replicate themselves without some appropriate systems (cells) and the environment from which they can retrieve the resources needed for the production of new replicas. But what they can do is to interact with the substrate inside their systems' boundaries preserving and increasing in this manner their system's organizational level. So, this is my "heretic" thought: Neither genes nor memes are replicators, only their systems (cells) can perform this role. They are interactors able to interact and bring order (stability) to the chaotic substance retrieved by their systems from the environment. Memes and genes are static, rate independent code which will in an appropriate environment trigger the program of production, replication or/and higher level interaction (between systems). If this is understood, than the question "What was first, the hen or the egg?" have an answer. Interaction was first, replication came later as the consequence of more and more complex interactions.


1. Vaneechoutte M., 1998; The replicator: a misnomer. Conceptual implications for genetics and memetics
Memetics Symposium (Namur, Belgium, August 24-28)
2. Lynch, A., 1998; Units, Events and Dynamics in Memetic Evolution
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission,
3. Speel, H-C., 1997; A Memetic Analysis of Policy Making
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission,
4. Maturana, H. R., Mpodozis J., and Letelier J. C., 1995.; Brain, language and the origin of human mental functions
Biological Research, Vol. 28, pp.15-26.
5. Wilkins, J. S., 1998; What's in a Meme? Reflections from the perspective of the history and philosophy of evolutionary biology.
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission, 2.
6. Pajk J., 1998; About InFORMation and SUBSTANCE


(1)Individual here means that this discussion is about the processes happening in one human mind as a system, but the "same" memetics can and should be extended even on larger systems as family, group, organization, nation, culture, etc.

(2)The mind is a "parallel computing machine", not of a sequential (step-by-step) "one processor" Von Neumann architecture like our computers. A large number of "processors" are working in the same time and can be in different states involved in different "computational" processes. So it is as legitimate to speak about particular mind states as about one (complex, multidimensional) state of mind existing in the same time, like how for a multicelular organism can be said that any cell or organized cell complex as a system has a state of its own, while the whole of the body as a complex system is at the same time in its particular state.

Published by the author on his TRIPOD homepage, July 1, 1998