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On Modelling in Memetics - Bruce Edmonds

6 Further Methods to Ensure Rigorous Selection

Validation and verification are the basic requirements for a model. In themselves they are only sufficient if one is modelling relatively simple processes, where it is possible to effectively and clearly test models by carefully designed experiment. In modelling cultural transmission, we are not (on the whole) so lucky. In approaching our subject matter we are forced to make so many choices regarding the selection of data, the modelling framework, modelling goals, etc. that there is a danger of these two selection criteria being insufficient to ensure the continued evolution of our models. It is well known that in evolutionary processes if the mutation rate is too high compared to the rest of the process then this can swamp the process so that it does not learn to successfully adapt; this may occur to the field of memetics - if we let it.

Hence for memetics (and other similar fields), the difficulties of verification mean that we need more stringent selection criteria. We may have to accept that we are constructing our memetic reality rather than merely passively reflecting it by our modelling choices, since the complexity of our chosen phenomena forces this on us. But just because we take such a constructivist stance*1 we do not have to be vague - we can respond to our chosen challenge by seeking to retain rigour.

These other criteria can be such as: its similarity to other accepted models (a lateral coherence criteria); the complexity of the model; the meaningfulness of the model in human terms; the ease with which the model can be used to calculate its predictions; and how general (or generalisable) it is.

Let me stress again that these are not optional extras - by applying these and making them explicit in our work we are only accepting their inevitability. When dealing with the complexity of phenomena such as social interaction we have no choice but to accept trade-offs in terms of the complexity of our models and (for example) their error-rate when verified against data [8].

On Modelling in Memetics - Bruce Edmonds - 18 AUG 98
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