INTRODUCTION to CHAPTER SIX
In this chapter we further clarify and develop the replicator concept, and we also develop a new concept of generative replication. The primary of generative replication virtue is that it allows us to consider replication of developmental instructions. We relate the replicator concept to complexity, and identify conditions that can lead to increases in complexity.
We emphasize that a replicator is not a thing but an informational mechanism. This is sufficient to counter many of the arguments against replicators. In general, following several other authors, replication involves three conditions, pertaining to causality, similarity and information transfer (see page 119). These establish the broad concept of a replicator.
Next, in section 6.3, inspired by work by John von Neumann, we ask what kinds of replicator and replication have the potential to increase complexity. This leads us to fine-tune the three conditions already established in the literature, and add a fourth, concerning “conditional generative mechanisms” (pages 122-3). When a replicator also satisfies this fourth condition it is called a “generative replicator”. The fourth condition is that within the information contained in the replicator there are instructions that guide the development of its host interactor. In other words, a particular kind of development information is involved.
An example of a biological replicator that is not generative is a prion (as in mad cows’ disease). Genes are clearly generative replicators. We argue that habits and routines can also be generative replicators. We criticize the meme concept to be vague and inadequate in this regard.
We argue that generative replicators have the potential to increase complexity, as long as their information is copied with sufficient fidelity. Crucially, copy error must be minimized. We note that complexity in social systems has increased much more rapidly in the last 10,000 years than in biological systems. This for us is evidence consistent with the existence of generative social replicators.
1. Can the replicator concept survive the criticism to which it has been subjected?
2. What are the weaknesses of the meme concept?
3. What are good examples of generative replication in social systems?
4. How is complexity defined?
5. Why is an examination of the conditions for increasing complexity important?