virus: Memes and Genes

Reed Konsler (
Wed, 16 Oct 1996 18:06:38 -0400

>Date: Wed, 16 Oct 96 09:26:19 BST

>Strangely enough, I was discussing this with some friends the other day, during
>a conversation debating Foetal Research. Apparently, it has become possible
>for geneticists to test the unborn child for social and physical traits, which
>could be "abnormal"! This includes things such as Alcoholism, and Criminality.
>Therefore, does it not seem reasonable that as these things are controlled by
>genes, then memes which can infect the mind are also more prevalent in
>genetic codes? For example, one with a Criminal gene is likely to be more
>susceptable to "criminal" memes, and less so to "law abiding" memes!

I've yet to see such a study which I found compelling. The problem is
controlling for developmental and environmental factors, which one cannot
do given the statistically insignificant sets of people as yet studied.
There is also a correlation vs. causation problem. Just because some
genetic marker tends to correlate with a behavior doesn't mean one causes
the other. The mechanism which links the two may be socio-economic in
nature and may in fact be an artifact of the selection criteria. For
instance: how do you measure criminality? Lets say you decide to do so
based upon convictions in court. As a percentage, African-Americans are
more likely to be convicted of crime than caucasians. Is this an
indication of gentically differentiated criminality? Another plausible
interpretation is that our court system has inherent racial bias.

So, we have two competing theories. Attempts to disprove "selection by
inherent bias" have, instead, corroborated this theory in other social
systems such as applying for loans, purchasing cars or houses, and
receiving medical treatment. The reason studies have not been done in the
courts is that our legal institutions will not tolerate such inspection and
have the capability of blocking it. It is simplest, however, to assume
that the courts function in a similar manner, or else we must justify
experimentally why they should be different.

>On what grounds do you base your assertion?

Cultural evolution has been occuring in earnest over only the last 10 to
100 thousand years. This is an insignificant period, genetically. We are
all of one genetic mold, so to speak. In the time of recorded history
culture has been changing so rapidly that what makes a "fit" human brain is
dramitically different with each generation.

Think of mental development as a growing meme-tree. The brain is designed
to create ever more complicated branching meme-structures in the same way a
tree is programmed to branch and foliate. Exactly how a tree or meme-tree
grows, however, is primarily dictated by the environment in which it
germinates and unpredictable developmental events. No two trees have the
same shape, and no two minds do either...but, genetically, they are
identical (or nearly so). It is the plasticity of the brain (or of a tree)
which is its greatest advantage, not it's rigidity.

>If anyone can correct me on the above information, feel free, but that's what I

Can you give me the reference for the study to which you are refering? I
think if we analyzed it together we might come to more specific
conclusions. I realize it's a pain to dig up such all I
can say is: I heard what you heard, and then I heard that what we both
heard wasn't accurate. Given that there is a lot of hearsay about all of
this and nobody can convince anybody of much...with or without evidence...I
tend to belive the simplest theory:

Genetic development does not significantly determine Memetic development.


Reed Konsler