Re: virus: What makes memes compete?

Tim Rhodes (
Wed, 16 Apr 1997 20:53:53 -0700 (PDT)

On Wed, 16 Apr 1997, Robin Faichney wrote:

> >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.
> But does it? If there's recent work showing it does, I'd like to hear
> about it.

Umm... the "I think" in the statement was meant to show that this is my
understanding based on my reading of Selfish Gene theories. But I haven't
seen any evidence of altruism arising from a specific set of genes,
either, for that matter.

I think we may be saying the same things in different ways. What I'm
trying to communicate is this: There is this thing that genes seem to
exhibit and we call it "altruism", but it doesn't really exist. Rather,
this "altruism" is just selfishness exhibiting itself in a different

Do you think there is a "altruism gene"? Is it just a meme?

> >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.
> Why are non-linguistic ones only "proto-memes"? Dawkins' original
> list included tunes and clothing fashions.

Just my little attempt to clean up the jargon (unilaterally, of course).
Dawkins may have come up with memes, but he never took a patient out on
the idea. :-)

> >Sorry, I'm not familiar with "con-specifics". Can you define?
> Others of the same species.

Thank you.

> >By "genetic altruism" are you talking here about a gene for
> >altruism or altruism arising from the selfish behavior of the genes?
> The former. I'm not clear what the latter, as distinct from the
> former, means.

The latter is the idea behind _The Selfish Gene_, as I read it. Where did
the "gene for altruism" idea come from, it's new to me?

> >> So how does the concept of genetic
> >> empathy stand up?
> >
> >Dodgier still, I'd muster.
> I really can't see that. Surely empathy is much less unselfish
> than altruism?

Not from a gene's point of view (not that a gene has a point of view,
but... ). Altruism has a pay-off in increased odds that the gene will be
passed on. Empathy, as you /seem/ to be using it, shows no such advantage
(or if it does I've missed it and I'll need you to restate).

> Maybe we need more discussion about what "empathy" means
> before we can discuss its origins.

Good idea. I wait with bated breathe.

(And in silence as well, I've been talking far too much lately, don't' you
think, Tad ?)

-Prof. Tim