Re: virus: What makes memes compete?

Tim Rhodes (
Mon, 14 Apr 1997 11:20:05 -0700 (PDT)

On Mon, 14 Apr 1997, Robin Faichney wrote:

> Q 1: What do people around here think of the liklihood of a gene
> for empathy? Before you answer, I should say I think that it
> just *could* be one of the most important bases for the
> transmission of memes, because in its most basic form,
> empathy results in the copying of behaviour.

If you're defining empathy as mimicry, I think I can support a genetic
underpining. Although I think saying there is _a_ gene for
mimicry/empathy is much, much too simplistic. More likely these traits
are manifestations of the effects of several (if not thousands) of other

This is also what, I think, is meant by a genetic basis for altruism. Not
that there is _a_ gene for altruism, but that altruism emerges from the
selfish workings of individual genes. Perhaps it's effects are best seen
at a memetic level (here I'm including non-linguistic proto-memes in the
"memetic" catch-all), but that is not to say that it originates in the
memes or in a specific gene either.

> Q 2: What would be other consequences of an empathy
> gene?

Staggering, if such a thing existed. I, personally have my doubts,
however, of ever locating one gene (or even a set of genes) that directly
turn on or off the empathetic response.

> But I can probably define it a little better: as
> well as coding for the copying of behaviour, it would
> cause a tendency to identify with con-specifics. (And,
> as a side issue, how are con-specifics identified? By
> visual/behavioural/other type templates?)

Sorry, I'm not familiar with "con-specifics". Can you define?

> Q 3: We know that the concept of genetic altruism is
> highly dodgy.

By "genetic altruism" are you talking here about a gene for
altruism or altruism arising from the selfish behavior of the genes?

> So how does the concept of genetic
> empathy stand up?

Dodgier still, I'd muster.

> Q 4: What can we say about altruism as a meme?

Other than that it may have a genetic underpinning? I think, "What can we
say about empathy as a meme?" is a much more interesting question,

-Prof. Tim