General Replicator Theory

Replicator Definitions

Kevin Aylward B.Sc.



There are many Replicators, that is entities that satisfy the axioms of General Replicator Theory, as discussed in this set of papers. 

The literature abounds on definitions of memes, genes, replicators etc, with many of them being specified over several paragraphs. The basic issue here, is that without a short concise definition, it is just about hopeless to see the forest as the trees are in the way. The approach here is one of complete simplicity that uses the most general definitions possible, so that the basic theory addresses evolution of Replicants, in the most general way. That is, it the theory applies to all of the cases where the more restricted definitions might have been used. Where a specific case requires further assumptions, for example, introducing specific restrictions on a Replicant, these will be introduced as needed.

It is argued that this more general approach, distinguishes this approach from the approaches of existing researchers in this field.


In the general study of memonics, researches often discuss such idea as "a library is just another way to make scholars" This may be useful in examining some issues associated with transmission of memes, but as to explaining memes application in a real human, is not very fruitful. The approach here, brings to the forefront that the real Replicator of memes is the human brain. This is because any theory is only as useful as it applies to real phenomena, and the human mind, i.e. consciousness, is one that this theory will be applied to in these papers. This crucial point seems to have been missed by many meme researches.


Definition - a trait is a Replicant and is any entity that can be copied.

Trait and Replicant are interchangeable words. If an entity can be copied, it is a trait and a Replicant.

Comment - Dawkins word 'replicator' for a gene trait, is is not how that same word is used in these papers.

A trait can be anything whatsoever, it can be a collection of billions of little traits if need be. If it gets copied, its a trait. End of story. Therefore there is no limit as to what a trait can describe.


A Replicator is any real physical device that can copy traits, in addition, it may or may not be able to copy itself as well, and it is as defined here as:

Definition - a Replicator is any physical machine that can copy traits. 

Definition - a gene trait Replicant is a physical trait of its Replicator.

DNA is a typical example of a Replicator. A biological gene is an example of a physical trait. For this particular example, the Replicator replicates itself as its method of replicating its traits.

A Replicator can be anything whatsoever, it can be a collection of billions of little Replicators if need be. If it can copy traits, it is a Replicator. End of story. Therefore there is no limit as to what a Replicator can do.

Observation - A gene trait has two fundamental characteristics to it:

1 Its physical manifestation to an external observer - phenotype e.g.  long legs etc.

2 Its physical manifestation to the internal Replicator - genotype - e.g. arrangement of its molecules.

Non Physical Traits - Memes 

A Replicator that can replicate non physical traits supports virtual genes, named memes, or meme traits or virtual traits. That is:

Definition - a meme trait is a virtual trait of a physical Replicator. 

A virtual trait, may be described as a "software" based trait, essentially, a meme is a piece of information. That is, a physical Replicator can store and change its virtual traits without the Replicator losing its fundamental physical structure, in much the same manner as the ram (random access memory) on a computer can be written to and read from. It is noted that a physical Replicator may contain instructions to replicate its traits, irrespective of whether they are physical or virtual.

A computer system with printer is a typical example of a Replicator that supports virtual traits. A file on the computers hard drive is an example of a virtual trait. 

A human brain is a Replicator that supports virtual traits. A piece of "human culture" or "code of conduct" is an example of a virtual trait, or meme. Indeed, "culture" exists no where else but the brains of individuals.

The path through a maze that a rat learns is a meme, as it is something that is copied and stored in the brain/body. 

In these examples, the Replicator just replicates its traits directly. It does not need to replicate itself to do this.

Observation - A meme trait has two fundamental characteristics to it:

1 Its physical manifestation to an external observer - phenotype e.g.  the words on a piece of paper

2 Its physical manifestation to the internal Replicator - memotype e.g. brain neuron connections 

Physically Real or Reme Traits

To account for all of culture in  general, one must account for any physical objects. The method chosen to account for physical objects not gene biologically based is described here, although other methods are available. This is to make a minor assumption and a pretense such, that all arguments with that pretence always result in a topologically identical situation as that that would occur if an exact argument were made.

It is therefore identified that a physically real "reme trait" is any physical object whatsoever that can be copied by a Replicator. Thus:

Definition - a reme trait is a real physical external trait that is replicated by a Replicator.

Therefore pots, pans, guitars, cars, are all reme traits.

Instructions to make such physical articles are meme traits.

Clearly, in reality, physical articles are manufactured by an independent manufacture Replicator, not the individual Replicators that use or have such traits. However, a manufacture does not make objects simply to have them sitting on the shelves, they are manufactured for the purposes of each individual Replicator that uses them. In reality, objects are effectively made to order by the Replicator using the objects. That is, a manufacture, ideally only makes objects for each Replicator that requires one. In this sense, the net effects is "as if" the object user Replicated the object itself, since it is the individual Replicator that, essentially, instigates the Replication. In this way, real physical objects can simply be assumed to be Replicated by the user, not the manufacture, as the net result from a cultural perspective, is the same. The fact that some objects might be manufactured and be unused, is arguable, not significant to the fundamental issues to culture based Replication of physical objects. In addition, some other rather obvious complications such as the manufacture trying to induce the individual Replicator will be discussed an a later date.

Trait Characteristics 

From the external evolutionary point of view, Replicants are described based on how their external characteristics interact with the environment, that is their phenotypes/memotype. However, the Replicants themselves are stored and interact physically as a real structure in accord with their internal genotype/memotype. In general, there is a functional relation between genotype/memotype and phenotype, such that in many cases it is not necessary to distinguish between them. That is:

genotype = F(phenotype)

phenotype = G(genotype) 

That is specifying, one specifies the other, although it should be noted that there are some complication such that the translations may not be unique.


A Replicator is what it is, a trait is what a Replicator copies.

Genes and memes are not Replicators, they are traits that get replicated by Replicators.

Richard Dawkins, the inventor of the word meme, and others, commonly describe memes/genes as replicators. This is misleading at best. A meme is only a trait or Replicant of a real physical Replicator. Traits can not copy themselves, so referring to them as replicators is rather obtuse, and in this authors opinion, should be discouraged as the term can only lead to confusion as to what a meme really is. Dawkins word "replicator" should be, arguable, be replaced with a word like "Replicant".

Notation - memes and genes are both examples of a Replicant. 

That is, a Replicant is what a Replicator produces. In general, where standard evolutionary texts use the word "replicator", it should be replaced with the word "Replicant" to make them consistent with the structure of these papers.

Specifically, a meme trait has to piggyback itself onto a real physical Replicator. Only a physical Replicator can take real action. The physical Replicator, in conjunction with both its internal meme and gene traits, are what actually instructs the Replicator to replicate an external meme trait into its own trait storage system.  

Meme Meaning

A meme trait has absolutely no intrinsic meaning, except as perceived by a Replicator. The meaning attributed to an external meme is only that with which a Replicator's internal genes and memes assign to it. Thus a Replicator replicating memes means that meanings of memes can mean something else!

This may be compared with a Windows PC attempting to run a McIntosh's program, but in this case, we have billions of humans, each with their own individual operating systems.

This point is a significant technical point. It means that quantifying memes is extremely difficult, possibly even intractable. For example, "is long hair desirable on a male", is dependant on the other memes already existing in the same Replicator. These other memes might well chose either way. What's more, newly copied memes might instigate a choice the other way.

Example Meme Traits

1 Chain letter - a chain letter has instructions to take some action (traits) and to copy itself. 

2 Religion - Religions have instructions to take some action (traits) and to copy itself. 

3 Reverse baseball cap wearing.

4 Any learned behavior.

It is noted here that the physical Replicator may or not require a "copy instruction" virtual trait. It may replicate the trait due to its own physical traits, or other prior virtual traits, however, a virtual "copy instruction" may result in a faster rate replication of the meme.

Meme Issues

Meme traits are virtual. That is, although they exist conceptually, they require physical embodiments to actuate their replication. This means that meme traits cannot instruct action that are detrimental to their long term physical embodiments. Memes that instructed such action would drive their physical embodiments to extinction, and hence themselves to extinction. In the short term, meme traits might well instruct action detrimental to their physical embodiments.


Definition - Evolution is any process that satisfies the Darwinian axioms of random generation, selection and replication.


A moral is an idea, concept or code of conduct,  or more specifically:

a moral is virtual meme trait, embedded in the physical structure of the human body, arguable the brain.

These moral traits are passed on to offspring or to other Replicators by physical Replicators.


Emotions are a physical manifestation of the brains physical state. Since the brains physical construction, and hence any state that it can exist in, is the result of Replicators, emotions can be nothing more than a trait of a Replicator, that is:

a conscious experienced gene trait of a Replicator.

Therefore, all emotion is subject to the results of the Replicator axioms. Emotion traits can only be passed on to offspring.


Senses are a physical manifestation of the brain and bodies physical state, therefore any aspect of senses ultimately resolve to that of a Replicator and its Replicants. The gene hardware usually resolves the various technical issues, but the final action on such sense signals depends on both the memes and genes residing in the Replicator. In fact, even the gene hardware can itself be a function of the Replicators memes.

Consciousness - Mind - Brain

The fundamental assumption of physical replicators is that there is no magic. This means that the laws of physics govern all physical properties. Physical properties are any entities that consist of mass-energy.

Although the actual details are not well understood, the mind, that is all consciousness is nothing more than the physical electro-chemical interactions of the brain. This principle has extensive experimental support, and no credible evidence existing in contradiction to this principle has ever been noted. 

Consciousness is the result of the physical structure of the brain, although to date, the full details are not understood. The brains physical structure consists of replicating  molecules, described by the theory of Biology, and as such, is experimentally shown to satisfy the axioms of Replicators, as described in these sets of papers. 

These papers may be freely copied only for non commercial use,

provided full credit is given to the author.

Kevin Aylward 2003 - all rights reserved