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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Not the beginning...Not even close

Before the massive DNA double helix there had to be...something.  DNA didn't appear out of thin air.  Organic chemists and other scientists have theorized about what came before DNA and how it all assembled in the primordial soup of the early earth.  But Evolutionary Biologists stay out of that.  They aren't concerned with origins but with what developed after that first fact.

Evolution isn't interested in first cause, it's focus is rather on development.
How did we get from point c to point d?  b to c?
Evolutionary biology relies on other disciplines to address point a (which is rather fortunate: as far as we can tell, reaching point a is like trying to count to infinity). 

So...where does the realm of memetics (as part of evolutionary theory) begin?
There are no easy lines of demarcation...but let's approach this question from a new angle.

Memes didn't start with the first word or first warble.
They didn't even start with (as Hoyle Leigh might say) the first neurons firing.

They are far older.

Quorum sensing in bacteria is facilitated by the production and recognition of certain signaling molecules.  These molecules allow single celled organisms to aggregate, network and even overpower much more complex, multi-celled organisms. 

This ability to network and collaborate through broadcasted information was foundational to the survival of single celled organisms as well as multi-celled organisms.  Yes, these signals are intricately connected to genes.  Can we be comfortable labeling these as chemical memes or are they simply products of genes? 

(It's a trick question, just like: does light behave like a wave or particle?  The best answer is both OR it depends on the context.)

As we will see later, memes intricately scaffold onto genes.  Leigh can be understood for adapting memetics to a flexible modernization of genetic determinism.  He went as far as his induction into the practice of normal, clinical science would permit & no further.  However, his work did not accomplish a foundation in memetics because he did not question the basic assumptions of his discipline in light of meme theory.  More on this later.

For now, let's be content to say we cannot simply pin-point the branching of memes from genes. Memes originated in service to genes.  Chemical memes have high fidelity (a pheromone has a particular chemical signature, a protein will fold in one particular way--when something goes wrong with this, there is trouble).  This high fidelity in transmission and exclusive service to the genes makes organisms relying on chemical memes highly efficient examples of evolution.

Continue to How Bacteria Relate to Memes

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