What’s in a Meme?

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Preparing for this article, I googled the word “meme” and generated 78,000,000 results! Looking back on 2013, the BBC published an article on-line listing its selection of the leading memes of the past year. Anyone who spends any amount of time surfing the internet will almost certainly have come across examples of that rather disreputable phenomenon, the “internet meme”, and marketing agencies, ever on the look-out for new ways to enter a customer’s psyche, have been fleet of foot in using them as tools in their viral marketing campaigns. You can even go to websites that offer to generate memes for you! The meme has certainly achieved a vibrant presence in popular consciousness.


In academic circles the “meme concept”, whilst having its dedicated supporters, has been viewed with suspicion by many, derision by some, and outright hostility by not a few. Memetics, a field of study developed from the 80s onwards, is often accused of trespassing in fields such as psychology or sociology, attempting to replace well established and coherent analytical tools and models with half-baked and insufficiently scientific notions.  Luis Benitez-Bribiesca has described memetics as a pseudo-scientific dogma, and there are few more serious condemnations than that in the academic world! To say that the memes are controversial in academia is akin to suggesting that, after the Big Bang, the universe got rather warm, and the enthusiasm with which memes have been embraced by popular culture has, if anything, worsened the regard in which serious scholars hold them.    

The meme first appeared in Richard Dawkins’ first book, “The Selfish Gene” (1976), and was an attempt to understand why some behaviours, from an evolutionary perspective, seemed to make no sense but, somehow or other, were found to be very common in human societies. As Dawkins emphasised, natural selection is a ruthless judge of its subjects and any frailty, physical or behavioural, is almost inevitably rewarded by a rapid exit from the gene pool. It therefore followed that any widespread behaviour, prevalent in a thriving population, no matter how immediately inexplicable, should give some advantage in terms of gene survival. Continued research aimed to understand the reasons behind animal behaviours has yielded results that are entirely consistent with this thesis.

In some cases, however, it is necessary to dig a little deeper and understand exactly what is benefitting from particular behaviours. Daniel Dennett, in his wonderful book “Breaking The Spell” (2006), gives the example of ants climbing to the top of blades of grass, and staying there, from which exposed position they are frequently devoured by grazing animals. It is impossible to account for this behaviour until it is realised that the beneficiary is not the ant and her genes but a tiny creature called a lancet fluke which has taken over the brain of the ant and compelled it to follow this course of action. It is part of the lancet fluke’s reproductive cycle to be eaten by a sheep or cow, and hitching a ride inside the ant is an excellent way to achieve this. Viruses also utilise the behaviour of their hosts. They enter an organism and use the body’s responses to their presence, such as sneezing or excreting, to facilitate their passage to further unwilling hosts.  There are numerous other examples where one organism utilises or manipulates the behaviour of another to further its own genetic agenda; often at the expense of the other.

The lancet fluke, the virus, or any other organism furthering the spread of its own genes, has no malign intentions towards their hosts or, in fact, any intentions at all. What is being seen is a process that has evolved through natural selection and favours the genes of lancet fluke or virus, or whatever.

Expanding on these observations and discoveries, Dawkins wondered, when observing behaviours among humans, whether any similar process could be at work to explain why some ideas, which on the face of it seem injurious to those who hold them, continue to persist and proliferate. Devoting oneself to one’s art, impoverishing oneself in the pursuit of Truth, or welcoming martyrdom for one’s cause do not, it seems, represent behaviours which are obviously beneficial to the individual of for the spread of that individual’s genes. So, given that this kind of behaviour clearly exists, and is widespread, what is reaping the benefit? Dawkins’ somewhat surprising answer was the ideas themselves. Ideas are clearly in competition with each other so perhaps there’s a selection process going on, analogous to natural selection, through which some ideas prove successful and spread whilst others die out. He concluded that there was such a selection process and, to emphasise the parallel to natural selection, he coined the term “meme” which come from an ancient Greek root, “mimeme”, meaning imitated thing. Dawkins has also, perhaps a touch mischievously, referred to memes as “mind viruses”, which has been met, predictably, with howls of indignation from some circles. The point he is trying to make is that memes, just like viruses, are indifferent to the welfare or otherwise of their hosts and the only thing that counts, from their perspective, is that they persist.

For a meme to survive and spread in a competitive environment it must have attributes which give it advantages over other memes. Whilst advantageous to the meme they do not have to be to the benefit of the host. A new method to make blades sharper is valuable knowledge and will either spread throughout a population, if allowed to do so, or will be guarded jealously by those who already possess that knowledge. Either way its efficacy is an attribute which will guarantee its retention. On the other hand, an idea such as “life after death” has the attribute that, since people are scared of death, a belief in a hereafter is likely to be a popular notion and, indeed, is. Such a belief may or may not benefit the host. If it removes the fear of death to the extent that, say, martyrdom is positively welcomed, the host clearly does not benefit; at least in this life!

A meme may improve its prospects for survival if it becomes part of what Dawkins termed a “memeplex”. This is a situation where a number of compatible memes join together in a manner that is mutually supportive, and may be seen as a roughly analogous situation to that where genes work in concert with other genes in the genome. Political and religious beliefs and also the combined knowledge of experts such as blacksmiths or builders can be seem as memeplexes and they clearly help to secure the longevity of the memes of which they are composed.

Memes and memeplexes may evolve as alchemy evolved into chemistry or religions change over time. They are subject to outside influences and so they adapt. Memes may also die and be replaced by other memes as did the ether which scientists had always thought existed until the end of the 19th century. Whatever its fate however, its fate is dependent on a whole complex of variables which may or may not include its truth or its positive value to its host.

The whole “meme” concept, as was mentioned above, has been severely criticised as being, at best, poorly defined and, at worst, totally unscientific. Dawkins initially defined a meme as a noun that “conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation” and there have been further attempts to define it more closely. He did not expect or intend for the concept to be taken up, away from the original context, with quite the enthusiasm it has been, and must have been as surprised as to its “success” as he was at the popularity of his book, “The Selfish Gene”. He has repeatedly cautioned that the analogy between memes and genes should not be taken too far and saw the whole idea as simply being one way to look at the way ideas spread and evolve. It is dangerous to simplify complex phenomena, subject to numerous and often unknown variables, into simple models, without attaching very strong caveats, and Dawkins has always been aware of this. Perhaps it is safest and most useful to view “meme” as one means by which one can get an idea as to how ideas, and particularly bad ideas, can contrive to spread so effectively in a culture; but without jettisoning the well founded theories provided by psychologists, sociologists and others.

In the meantime, the “meme, meme” continues to spread and evolve. Within its memeplex, memetics, it may eventually become another unexceptionable term and a tool to shed light on the complexities of culture, perhaps not. It continues, though, to branch out in meaning and usage, in diverse cultural directions, evolving all the way, and seems set, less than 40 years after its was first coined by Richard Dawkins, to become a fixture of our cultural universe and our lexicon.

Mark Jordan is a writer, researcher and music promoter, based in London. He can be reached on mrkjordan61@gmail.com

 

Written By: Mark A Jordan
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19 COMMENTS

  1. Strongly recommend reading “The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch. Quote: “The frequently cited metaphor of the history of life on Earth, in which human civilization occupies only the final ‘second’ of the ‘day’ during which life has so far existed, is misleading. In reality, a substantial proportion of all evolution on our planet to date has occurred in human brains. And it has barely begun. The whole of biological evolution was but a preface to the main story of evolution, the evolution of memes.”

  2. Mmm…. David Deutsch is an interesting thinker and scientist for whom I have a great deal of respect. A few thousand years of thought versus a few billion years of evolution…. I can’t help feeling he’s got things a little out of proportion here! I haven’t read that particular publication though, so perhaps I should, to avoid taking his statement out of context

  3. I have just finished reading the 30th anniversary edition of The Selfish Gene.

    It seems to me that Mark Jordan doesn’t quite get it right. For example: Chemistry replaced Alchemy – it did not evolve from it. If we can accept that Alchemy was formerly a part of the Science memeplex – highly doubtful – then it was an evolutionary dead-end.

    That aside, I look forward to Part 2. There has to be a second part, where Mark Jordan describes what the competing memes in sociology and psychology are – and why they are supported as superior concepts … no?

    Peace.

  4. “It seems to me that Mark Jordan doesn’t quite get it right. For example: Chemistry replaced Alchemy – it did not evolve from it. If we can accept that Alchemy was formerly a part of the Science memeplex – highly doubtful – then it was an evolutionary dead-end.

    That aside, I look forward to Part 2. There has to be a second part, where Mark Jordan describes what the competing memes in sociology and psychology are – and why they are supported as superior concepts … no?” (Stephen of Wimbledon)

    Maybe I will have a go at that part two! I think I acknowledged that the utility of the “meme” concept had been drawn into question by experts in various other disciplines, and their arguments are good. I do think the idea of “memes” has effectively highlighted how “bad” ideas as well as “good” ones can spread in a community by virtue of attributes which promote their replication; to their “benefit” but, often, at the expense of their hosts. What I was most interested in here is how the meme concept itself has spread and evolved, often in ways of which Dawkins clearly disapproves. That’s memes for you!

    I take your point about alchemy to chemistry evolution and I was perhaps a little slack in my usage of terms. I do think, however, that there’s lots of evidence to suggest that the efforts of the alchemists, whilst clearly doomed to failure, provided, as a bi-product, lots of insights which provided chemistry with a basis to get going.

  5. What’s in a meme?

    Two Ms and two Es, that’s what’s in a meme.

    Memes accomplish one main objective, removing the need to think or do work. Memes conserve energy. Nothing makes a conversation easier than lingo droppings.

  6. In reply to #5 by aquilacane:

    Two Ms and two Es, that’s what’s in a meme.

    Brought to you by, Sesame Street.

    lingo droppings

    A good scribble, that would make.

  7. In reply to #4 by MarkJordan61:

    Hi Mark,

    … the utility of the “meme” concept had been drawn into question by experts in various other disciplines, and their arguments are good.

    I’d like to hear them. When the Prof. introduced the meme to the World, it was a new concept that begged many questions. It would be good to hear what researchers have done to test the theory of a unit of culture that demonstrates descent with modification. Call me sceptical, but I can’t help thinking that there are more commentators than researchers.

    I do think the idea of “memes” has effectively highlighted how “bad” ideas as well as “good” ones can spread in a community by virtue of attributes which promote their replication; to their “benefit” but, often, at the expense of their hosts.

    Yes I think that’s covered in the original concept – there appears to be no reason why a unit of culture cannot be viral. Hmm, I seem to have heard that somewhere …

    I take your point about alchemy to chemistry evolution …

    No biggie, they’re only labels. As the doctors are always saying: If it works it becomes real medicine.

    What I was most interested in here is how the meme concept itself has spread and evolved, often in ways of which Dawkins clearly disapproves.

    And that’s why you should write a part 2. In the 30 years since the meme was first described the meme of meme should not really have evolved. As a fellow pedant I understand the Prof’s frustration when a painstakingly crafted description is changed – because then it describes something different. Lots of people would get upset if I started saying that the c in E=Mc2 stood for a constant not directly associated with the speed of light.

    By the same token, if people change what they mean by meme, they’re talking about something else, not memes.

    That still leaves plenty of room to explore what counts as a unit of culture, the timeframe in which memes operate, how they replicate, the various mechanisms for copy-error-correction and copy-error (a.k.a. mutation), interactions between memes and between memes and their environment.

    My personal favourite idea would be to explore the possibility of a meme version of alleles.

    Given that flexibility, it’s difficult for me to understand why psychologists and sociologists would be hostile to the idea of memes.

    It is a known fact that knowing is usually less than half the battle of understanding. Which is before we get to partisanship. Perhaps these things could be explored in Part 2?

    Peace.

  8. You’ve raised some very valid issues here! I was hoping this piece would get some reaction, and I’ve been disappointed by the few comments I’ve received. Yours make up for that! I will certainly consider writing a sequel covering your suggestions and more.
    In reply to #7 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

    In reply to #4 by MarkJordan61:

    Hi Mark,

    … the utility of the “meme” concept had been drawn into question by experts in various other disciplines, and their arguments are good.

    I’d like to hear them. When the Prof. introduced the meme to the World, it was a new concept that begged many questio…

  9. Expanding on these observations and discoveries, Dawkins wondered, when observing behaviours among humans, whether any similar process could be at work to explain why some ideas, which on the face of it seem injurious to those who hold them, continue to persist and proliferate. Devoting oneself to one’s art, impoverishing oneself in the pursuit of Truth, or welcoming martyrdom for one’s cause do not, it seems, represent behaviours which are obviously beneficial to the individual of for the spread of that individual’s genes. So, given that this kind of behaviour clearly exists, and is widespread, what is reaping the benefit? Dawkins’ somewhat surprising answer was the ideas themselves.

    I think this question was more strongly answered elsewhere in the article:

    In some cases, however, it is necessary to dig a little deeper and understand exactly what is benefitting from particular behaviours. Daniel Dennett, in his wonderful book “Breaking The Spell” (2006), gives the example of ants climbing to the top of blades of grass, and staying there, from which exposed position they are frequently devoured by grazing animals. It is impossible to account for this behaviour until it is realised that the beneficiary is not the ant and her genes but a tiny creature called a lancet fluke which has taken over the brain of the ant and compelled it to follow this course of action. It is part of the lancet fluke’s reproductive cycle to be eaten by a sheep or cow, and hitching a ride inside the ant is an excellent way to achieve this. Viruses also utilise the behaviour of their hosts. They enter an organism and use the body’s responses to their presence, such as sneezing or excreting, to facilitate their passage to further unwilling hosts. There are numerous other examples where one organism utilises or manipulates the behaviour of another to further its own genetic agenda; often at the expense of the other.

    The lancet fluke, the virus, or any other organism furthering the spread of its own genes, has no malign intentions towards their hosts or, in fact, any intentions at all. What is being seen is a process that has evolved through natural selection and favours the genes of lancet fluke or virus, or whatever.

    Altruism (organism pays a cost and another benefits) is basically inverse parasitism (organism takes a benefit and another pays the cost for it). I think the more plausible explanation for why some people sacrifice themselves for others is simply that it benefits (the genes of) the people who encourage them, directly or indirectly, to take the sacrifice. It doesn’t even require the “parasites” to have a malicious bone in their bodies, just like the case of the fluke in the example.

    This would also explain why examples of unstinting self-sacrifice are extremely rare among even humans, since the next evolutionary step in the game is for organisms to become more suspicious of such moralistic calls to arms. In fact, I’m surprised Dawkins hasn’t yet posited this explanation, seeing as he’s familiar with the idea of an extended phenotype (genes acting on the phenotypes of non-host organisms), having written the book of the same name.

    I’m not saying memetics is outright disproved as a result, but I think there is merit in the criticism that it can be too often invoked to explain things that are neatly explained by pre-existing, stronger frameworks. I would also be interested to know the state of memetics journals over the last few decades, since a scientific paradigm can be measured by the research it spawns.

  10. Most people have probably seen this by now but just in case, I think this is an excellent critique of “meme” as a useful concept for cognitive science research:

    Scott Atran: THE TROUBLE WITH MEMES : INFERENCE VERSUS IMITATION IN CULTURAL

    Note, this has nothing to do with whether people can continue talking about Internet memes, etc. The question Atran asks is whether “meme” is a useful research metaphor for cognitive scientists. He draws an analogy with the intellectual history of the atom, we still see pictures of atoms as little solar systems but at one point people thought that was more than a metaphor, they thought it was a construct to drive research. They found out it didn’t work, the forces keeping an atom together were just too different from those keeping a solar system together. Atran contends that the same is true for meme, it can be a useful idea for casual discussion and for introducing the idea that there is more to the science of psychology than just understanding neurobiology but the idea of “selfish memes” (which the author expressed here) that replicate for their own sake the way genes do doesn’t hold up because memes, unlike genes are not accurate replicators.

    BTW, I’ve never heard Dawkins or any meme proponent give a reply to this that was convincing. If anyone knows of any I would be interested to check them out.

  11. Atran contends that the same is true for meme, it can be a useful idea for casual discussion and for introducing the idea that there is more to the science of psychology than just understanding neurobiology but the idea of “selfish memes” (which the author expressed here) that replicate for their own sake the way genes do doesn’t hold up because memes, unlike genes are not accurate replicators.

    In The Selfish Gene Richard Dawkins talks about the paradox between the idea that mutations are essential for evolution and that natural selection favours high fidelity of copying. He suggests that natural selection would favour the replicators with high longevity, fecundity and fidelity. So how accurate do the replicators need to be for the idea of selfish genes or memes?

    In reply to #10 by Red Dog:

    Most people have probably seen this by now but just in case, I think this is an excellent critique of “meme” as a useful concept for cognitive science research:

    Scott Atran: THE TROUBLE WITH MEMES : INFERENCE VERSUS IMITATION IN CULTURAL

    Note, this has nothing to do with whether people can contin…

  12. In reply to #11 by Marktony:

    In The Selfish Gene Richard Dawkins talks about the paradox between the idea that mutations are essential for evolution and that natural selection favours high fidelity of copying. He suggests that natural selection would favour the replicators with high longevity, fecundity and fidelity. So how accurate do the replicators need to be for the idea of selfish genes or memes?

    It’s not just that natural selection will favor genes that replicate with high fidelity it’s that we wouldn’t even get natural selection if the genes didn’t replicate with a high degree of fidelity. And the same goes for memes. If memes don’t replicate with high fidelity then the concept of “meme as an idea replicator as gene is a replicator for traits” is dead on arrival. And I’m as positive I can be on any of these topics that Dawkins would agree with that general statement.

    When I’ve heard Dawkins defend the meme to this kind of attack, which has been very little, he never says “memes don’t need to replicate with high fidelity” Atran goes into all this in the paper including the Dawkins response which I don’t want to attempt to paraphrase because I’m not sure I understand it, but I am sure Dawkins would agree that genes and memes need to be high fidelity for the concepts to be viable.

    He replied to a comment I made on this a while ago here: Dawkins reply to red dog comment on memes

  13. In reply to #12 by Red Dog:

    In reply to #11 by Marktony:

    In The Selfish Gene Richard Dawkins talks about the paradox between the idea that mutations are essential for evolution and that natural selection favours high fidelity of copying. He suggests that natural selection would favour the replicators with high longevity, fecu…

    I don’t think it’s so much high fidelity as fidelity versus generation time. Daniel Dennett put it best when he pointed out that, if a ratio between mutation rate and reproduction rate was skewed towards the mutation rate, “good tricks would be lost as soon as they were acquired” (paraphrased slightly). I think it’s also called error catastrophe, a concept borne from studying RNA viruses and their mutation rates.

    Also, thanks for the link to Atran’s critique. I get the impression I’ve come across “The trouble with memes” before, but I couldn’t place it.

  14. In reply to #12 by Red Dog:

    Hi Red Dog,

    He [Atran] draws an analogy with the intellectual history of the atom, we still see pictures of atoms as little solar systems

    The Prof. is quite specific on exactly this point in The Selfish Gene saying that it is not a good idea to recycle the metaphors he has used to describe biological evolution in order to describe cultural-idea evolution. I would give you the quote, but this is a tea-break reply. In essence, the Prof’s. position has always been: There appear to be parallels, and there is no reason to believe that genes have a monopoly on being the agents of evolutionary change – now go to work, scientists!

    Are there, in fact, memeplex processes and constructs that will give us cultural analogues of allele, phenotype, zygot, embryonic development, and so forth? There may not, and the Prof. has always been keen to say that his idea requires development. No doubt, as it is a drum he beats often and loudly, he would prefer that such meme-idea development was based on researched data.

    I will read Atran’s paper: Before I start, will I actually learn anything based on research, or will I simply hear a position statement? Call me arrogant if you will; I’m confident that my money (see earlier comment) is safe. Atran is entitled to his opinion, but after 30 years I was hoping for more.

    .. natural selection will favor genes that replicate with high fidelity …

    If that is true, what is it that natural selection is working on?

    Taking your comment to it’s extreme, you appear to be saying that a group of clones will experience a period of rapid gene divergence. I know you well enough, I think, to say; sorry to be a pedant – I’m sure you didn’t mean that.

    If memes don’t replicate with high fidelity then the concept of meme as an idea replicator as gene is a replicator for traits is dead on arrival.

    That seems accurate, but why do you believe that isn’t the case? As per the Prof’s. comments to you earlier (via link), it is important to recognise that ideas – although they are expresed in language – are not language.

    Bodies are built by cells reading the instructions in the DNA Instruction Set, but this is not the equivelant of words instructing brains to construct communication of ideas. Words are the tools of the brain, and they are seperated from the ideas that the Brain applys them to, in order to communicate the idea.

    That last sentence includes several layers of abstraction and processing which, in genetics, is mostly coverd by the many stages of the reproductive cycle (some of which I listed above). Who, I wonder, has actually picked up the rhetorical scientific glove thrown down by Dawkins when he first presented his meme idea?

    And, as per my previous comments to Mark, I’ll bet there’s no shortage of people who are poo-pooing the idea because they would rather stick with what they know than expand the frontiers of knowledge.

    None of this makes memes a solid idea – Susan Blackmore’s Meme book sounds interesting.

    Is Atran a Blackmore, or a Scientist, or just a poo-pooer?

    I’m about to find out.

    Peace.

  15. In reply to #14 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

    Taking your comment to it’s extreme, you appear to be saying that a group of clones will experience a period of rapid gene divergence. I know you well enough, I think, to say; sorry to be a pedant – I’m sure you didn’t mean that.

    Thanks but don’t assume I know much about genetics. It’s all self taught and mostly from reading Prof. Dawkins’ books. One of these days soon I’m going to take an online course on genetics. So I could very well be saying stupid things on the topic and feel free to correct me if I am. But I don’t think what I said has anything to do with clones per se. The point is, and I thought this was uncontroversial is that while mutations are essential for natural selection (if things don’t change their is nothing to select) high fidelity replication is as well. Of course how much is “high” fidelity isn’t an exact number but if in general (I thought) genes don’t replicate with some high percentage of accuracy then there isn’t enough consistency from one organism to the next for any meaningful changes to even accrue. I would think you could even see this in some of the simulations Dawkins created using simple computer programs. If you raise the mutation rate too high, so that every next generation has significant deviation from the last I would expect you don’t get selection.

  16. In reply to #14 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

    If memes don’t replicate with high fidelity then the concept of meme as an idea replicator as gene is a replicator for traits is dead on arrival….
    That seems accurate, but why do you believe that isn’t the case?

    Because that is what Atran’s research seems to indicate, that memes, unlike genes, do not replicate with high fidelity.

    As per the Prof’s. comments to you earlier (via link), it is important to recognise that ideas – although they are expresed in language – are not language.

    I have to admit I’m not sure I understood Dawlins’ reply comment. If he meant what I thought, I think he was missing the point as I expressed in a response to him later in the comments. But I am confidant that Atran is not confusing memes with language. He takes example memes and shows how their interpretation differs radically across what seems like it should be a culturally fairly homogeneous group (e.g., college students from similar cultural environments).

    So sayings from Mao are interpreted wildly differently even among native Chinese students who were raised with them. Or Christian students raised with the bible have radically different interpretations of fundamental memes about God and morality. And he also does actual experiments where he creates a sample meme and asks students to transmit it and like a game of telephone the meme is usually unrecognizable after a few transmissions. It’s as if the great grandson of a fish could turn out to be Zebra.

    None of this makes memes a solid idea – Susan Blackmore’s Meme book sounds interesting. Is Atran a Blackmore, or a Scientist, or just a poo-pooer?

    I tried reading Blackmore’s book and never finished it. One of these days (after the genetics class) I’ll give it another try. IMO Atran is absolutely a scientist. It’s one of the critiques Atran makes toward meme theorists such as Blackmore. The meme people theorize but (to my knowledge) never do any actual experiments. Atran gets his hands dirty and does real social science experiments and adjusts his theories accordingly. He’s also got some balls, the stories he relates (not in that paper, this is another topic) about how he (a Jew) goes into lands occupied by Islamic fundamentalists in order to talk to them are pretty impressive to me.

  17. In reply to #15 by Red Dog:

    Hi Red Dog,

    Thanks but don’t assume I know much about genetics.

    Well what I know is only because I’m an auto-didactic sort. My understanding is probably full of holes.

    But I don’t think what I said has anything to do with clones per se.

    No that was just me.

    The point is, and I thought this was uncontroversial is that while mutations are essential for natural selection (if things don’t change their is nothing to select) high fidelity replication is as well.

    High fidelity is essential for a stable population. Assuming that a certain gene pool is in a stable environment, a high level of mutation will tend to produce offspring that are not well adapted for it, and they will tend to be less able to reproduce – thus dying out. In addition genes, as the driving force behind replication and therefore reproduction, don’t ‘want’ to produce different genes, they ‘want’ to go on to survive in the next generation. High levels of mutation would work against them.

    Natural selection ‘selects’ from differences in the population. Thus, if the fidelity of replication is too high – potentially – there is both not enough variation to make the population flexible in the short term and not enough new features that might, or might not, be useful as the environment changes over longer periods.

    The difficulty for any gene pool is to strike the right balance.

    … if … genes don’t replicate with some high percentage of accuracy then there isn’t enough consistency from one organism to the next for any meaningful changes to even accrue.

    Mutations will add to the gene pool if they produce a something, a new leg say. If the new leg is really useful, then those with five legs will generally be more likely to have offspring. That is more likely to lead to more successful gene replication, for all those genes in bodies that produce five legs.

    In essence every change produced in the next generation may have a cost and a benefit – or be neutral – to those individuals that have that change, and their genes.

    The only way to know if five legs adds or subtracts from the gene pool is to see how it survives in the environment in which it finds itself.

    I would think you could even see this in some of the simulations Dawkins created using simple computer programs. If you raise the mutation rate too high, so that every next generation has significant deviation from the last I would expect you don’t get selection.

    Nearly. If the mutation rate is too high then too many of the next generation will be bodies that are poorly adapted to survive and breed. They will be ‘selected against’ by the environment. A kind of negative selection.

    Sorry I didn’t finish the philosophy chat we were having. Spread myself too thin.

    Peace.

  18. Good job of summarizing, enjoyed reading it.
    ….and yes the original intent has been taken out of context just as your summary has been nitpicked.
    Looking forward to reading more of your writings.

  19. Thanks Ming. Glad you enjoyed it!In reply to #18 by Ming:

    Good job of summarizing, enjoyed reading it.
    ….and yes the original intent has been taken out of context just as your summary has been nitpicked.
    Looking forward to reading more of your writings.

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