A meme-gene machine

Our genes are replicators. Just a simple reminder, from wikipedia:

Natural selection is the process by which genetic mutations that enhance reproduction become, and remain, more common in successive generations of a population. It has often been called a “self-evident” mechanism because it necessarily follows from three simple facts:

  • Heritable variation exists within populations of organisms.
  • Organisms produce more offspring than can survive.
  • These offspring vary in their ability to survive and reproduce.

These conditions produce competition between organisms for survival and reproduction. Consequently, organisms with traits that give them an advantage over their competitors pass these advantageous traits on, while traits that do not confer an advantage are not passed on to the next generation.

As Richard Dawkins noted in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene (I recommend this book to everyone interested in genetics), there could be a different form of replicator. He called it meme and it is the idea that is replicated. Memes live in a (memetic) world, where heritage, reproduction and selection are in place. It thus implies the process of evolution. It works very differently. In reproduction, mutation occurs more often. It is much faster.

Now, there is a natural question: There are two replicators. How do they interact? Are they fighting or cooperating (in a sense of “what happens”, not that they actually have any kind of intention – they are replicators, they don’t have intentions).

Since we needed an ability to predict the outcome of our actions (our brain is a giant simulator), communication and creative thought, everything increased fitness of our genes. So growing the brain was a clear go-go in the process of natural selection. Now we have brains, that eat much of our energy. Are they worth it? Do we have more ability to survive with even bigger brains?

The brains created memes : the new replicator. They are able to replicate by jumping from brain to brain. Do they influence genes in some way? Do they push our genetic fitness to favor spreading of particular memes? And if yes, how?

One thing is certain. Our genes and memes that we host and spread do not care about our happiness (they don’t have intentions, remember?). So they develop in a way to replicate (or those which develop to replicate are seen in the gene/meme pool).

If this is true (I don’t know, this is a blog, not a scientific paper), there are questions about our free will. How much of our thinking and action is influenced by our genetic and memetic inheritance? They certainly are, but to what extent, we are probably only beginning to find out.

If your thinking is a mean of transport, the road ahead you is the way of thinking and action. Is it using a terrain vehicle to use a wooden road instead of the main road or trying to turn a tram and ride somewhere, where there are no rails?

How much of our thinking is influenced? Selection of partners? Very likely highly influenced by our genes. Religious beliefs? Very likely controlled by the memes we host.

This article links to an article, which studies interaction between memes and genes. In evolutionary artificial intelligence, there is a field of Memetic algorithms. There are very interesting results using this approach.

I will finish by citing the conclusion of the linked article:

_ For some time it has been recognised that, within complex social environments, particularly those involving humans, a form of cultural replicator exists. Such a replicator must therefore coevolve with genes, the existing replicators. This coevolution will be influenced by the degree of coupling between the replicators and also by their relative rates of replication. In this paper we have presented results from a version of the NKCS model of meme-gene coevolution.

It has been found that, for most degrees of dependence between the two replicators, regardless of the dependence within the populations, a phase transition-like dynamic occurs as the relative rate of replication is varied. Within our model, until the rate of meme evolution is a thirtieth that of genes, genes remain unaffected by their presence. From then on, until the memes evolve ten times faster than the genes, the genes experience increasingly negative effects from the presence of the memes, and thereafter are unable to evolve effectively. Conversely, the memes do not experience any benefit from increasing their rate of evolution until it is around a tenth that of the genes. From then on, until they evolve thirty times faster than the genes, they experience increasing benefit from increasing their rate of evolution. Thereafter they suffer no beneficial or detrimental effects from any increase. _



Written by Juraj Bednár //