Introduction to the code model
By Sylvain Magne
Richard Dawkins’ founding concept of memetics, the replicator idea, is to me a perfectly good model to build memetics on. Unfortunately however, in its current form, when it comes to experimenting and testing the theory, I feel the replicator lacks precision and is unable to offer clear directions on how to proceed. This leaves memeticists with many unanswered questions and many disagreements. For example, memeticists can’t seem to agree on whether memes exist inside human brains or not ( internalists versus externalists ). And that’s not a minor issue. In my opinion, the reason for this state of affair is that the fundamental concepts in the definition of the replicator are not precise enough and open to misinterpretation. My aim will be to try and clarify those concepts in order to move forward again with the theory of memetics.
The best place to start will be with the definition of the replicator as given by the man who came up with the meme idea. Richard Dawkins’ definition of the replicator is as follows:
A replicator may be defined as any entity in the universe of which copies are made.
The above definition is beautiful because of how concise it is and how simple it is. Indeed it uses only a few common words and contains very few concepts. Yet, although all those words are familiar, they are not as straightforward as they may seem. To fully make sense of the definition one needs to agree on what the “entity” may be, what a “copy” is and finally on what exactly is “making” the copies.
For example, the word “entity” is, to say the least, rather vague. But that vagueness is also its strength, in the sense that it makes this definition as universal as possible. It means that no matter the nature of the entity considered, as long as copies are being made somehow, the entity qualifies as a replicator. This is exactly how Richard Dawkins argues that cultural bits could be regarded as replicators. The problem is though, to know exactly which entities we are talking about. Now I believe we can be much more specific about what an entity is while preserving nonetheless the universal quality of the definition. This is what I will try achieve in this chapter. These entities I will call “codes”.
In a similar way, the term copy is very vague. The question here is what exactly qualifies as a copy ? For example, does it need to be an exact copy or is a 90% accurate copy good enough ? With genes, the copy may need to be perfect to be a fully functional gene, but when it comes to cultural memes, it is far less obvious. This point has spurred much deserved criticism on memetics. Despite much effort to argue for the validity of memetics, the case for memetics still needs to be made clearly. I will offer, in the next chapter, a new definition of the copy in order to try and dissipate the misunderstandings. My new definition of copy will stem directly from my new definition of the entity.
Finally, with regard to what it is that makes the copying, I will answer this question in two parts. The first part along with the definition of entity, and the second part along with the definition of copy. To me the question of what it is that makes the copying is just as central to the theory as the concept of entity and copy. It is in fact inseparable from the other two concepts, as I hope to show, and deserves to be fully integrated into the theory. I will name the “thing making the copies” a reader.
So, this is what this work is trying to do: define the core concepts of the replicator, in details. In the following chapter, we will enter the heart of the matter. We will initially explore the replicator in details by proposing a definition of the code that I hope to be as universal as possible. We will then use this definition to redefine the concept of copy and replicator.
The entity - All is code
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