Re: question about memes

Date: Fri Mar 15 2002 - 09:59:59 GMT

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    In a message dated 3/14/2002 7:12:05 AM Central Standard Time, Wade T.Smith
    <> writes:

    > My argument has always been that even declarations of intentions are
    > irrelevant to the actual behavior.
    > Killing one's children predates satan, therefore the behavior (the meme)
    > predates satan. Satan is only the latest name of this.

    Hi Wade.

    I always thought that declarations of intentions were themselves behaviors.
    Indeed, beliefs can be viewed as internal behaviors, as discussed in the
    excerpt from "Units, Events, and Dynamics in the Evolutionary Epidemiology of
    Ideas" below.

    As for Joachim's question, one can say that belief in Satan played a causal
    role in the killing of those children, but that it was not the only causal
    factor. Most people who believe in Satan do not kill their children. Indeed,
    I would not be surprised if most of the jurors who convicted Andrea Yates
    believed in Satan. Still, one might say (at the risk of furious protests from
    believers in certain religious ideas) that belief in Satan is part of a mass
    delusion that gravely worsened the outcome of one woman's post-partum
    depression. Both the depression and the belief played causal roles, along
    with other potential factors in her personal psychology, living arrangements,
    beliefs, social setting, financial situation, etc.

    --Aaron Lynch

    EXCERPT FROM: "Units, Events, and Dynamics in the Evolutionary Epidemiology
    of Ideas" (

    [Section 13] Quantitative Analysis for Artifactual and Behavioral

    "... Although labels of individuals based solely on artifacts and externally
    visible or audible behaviors are not treated as ideas, or thought contagions
    in this paper, equations 1 and 2 can be generalized to apply to such labels.
    That is, equations 1 and 2 can model the natural selection of artifactual
    abstractions and external behavior abstractions as well as memory
    abstractions, provided that the individual person is still taken as the
    measure of transmission. For instance, N1 can be defined as the population
    possessing a certain kind of artifact, and N2 defined as the population not
    possessing that kind of artifact. Alternatively, N1 can be defined as the
    population exhibiting a certain external (e.g., motor) behavior, and N2
    defined as the population not exhibiting that behavior. However, as
    population equations, equations 1 and 2 cannot directly model the number of
    copies of an artifact or the number of instances of an external behavior. The
    latter quantities would require modification of the equations or the
    development of different types of equations. One possible method of
    proceeding is to separately model the number of artifact copies or external
    behavior instances per person counted as "possessing" the artifact or
    exhibiting the behavior, and multiply this quantity by the numbers N1 or N2
    as modeled by equations 1 and 2. Naturally, that is a much easier task in
    those cases where the behavior or artifact count per person can be treated as
    constant over the time interval under study. Such mathematical methods do not
    work, however, for entities that are said to be "the same" replicator whether
    instantiated in behavior, artifact, or brain. The replicated subset of
    combined behavioral, artifactual, and neurally stored information already
    goes by the term "culture," and so is not given additional nomenclature
    within this paper. The term "thought contagion" is used in this paper to
    refer only to the replicated subset of neurally-stored information, a subset
    of culture that thus receives identification.

    The description of the evolutionary epidemiology of ideas as being about how
    ideas influence behaviors that propagate ideas need not be taken as implying
    a rigid idea/behavior dichotomy. The phenomenon we call "life" is a material
    process, and processes can be viewed as behaviors. Some behaviors can be
    labeled "internal" while others can be labeled "external" while still others
    can be labeled as mixes of "internal" and "external." The neural memory of
    anything is actually a process, as is the "static RAM" storage of a "1" or a
    "0" mentioned earlier. The axons and dendrites that form a synapse, for
    instance, are dynamic, ever-changing, metabolizing parts of cells. Their
    lipids, water, ions, proteins, etc. are all in states of flux at various
    rates. It is only through process that they remain "the same" (with respect
    to an abstraction) from one day to the next, or one year to the next. Thus,
    the concept of "memory item" or "idea" can be rephrased in terms of behaviors
    causing behaviors. The "internal" neural behaviors called "ideas" in the
    preceding sections can thus affect "external" speech behavior, for instance.
    That "external" behavior can then affect the "internal" behavior of another
    person in such a way as to cause a new "internal" behavior that is "the same"
    (with respect to an abstraction, or theoretical construct) as the "internal"
    behavior of the first person.

    Such theoretical constructs handle the recurrence of external behaviors in a
    single organism as well. They are also intended to remain consistent with
    recent and potential future observations of internal behaviors using PET
    scans, microelectrodes, etc. -- the neurobiological research.

    In behavioral terminology, a phenomenon or experience that people might
    identify as an "idea" held for (say) 20 years can be considered an ongoing 20
    year internal behavior, and identified by abstraction as is the case with
    more temporary external behaviors such as shoe tying discussed in section 7.
    A focus on behaviors need not be limited to the macroscopic actions of such
    body parts as muscles, bones, and skin, but may also include the microscopic
    actions of neurons and the overall actions of such internal organs as the
    brain. (There is no magical barrier that allows for consideration of behavior
    of all body parts and organs except the brain and nervous system.)

    While some may prefer to focus exclusively on external behaviors in hopes of
    attaining reliable observability, the goal of observability is not always
    met. External behaviors can be deceptive, a fact routinely demonstrated by
    magicians but also evidenced in such areas as the unreliability of eye
    witnesses. There are also many important phenomena poorly handled by
    considering only external behaviors without reference to internal behaviors
    or ideas. For example, a specific set of ideas about how to hijack a plane
    and use it to attack a skyscraper can be replicated among a number of people
    even if the actual behavior of attacking a skyscraper with a hijacked plane
    has never before taken place. People involved in such a plot can all have
    "the same" idea (i.e., instantiate the same internal behavior abstraction)
    long before the actual attack. To understand the causes of such an attack,
    one simply must pay attention to ideas or abstractions about internal
    behaviors in people before the first such attack ever happens. This includes
    paying attention to whole systems of belief as well as
    ideologically-motivated attack plans. Many less spectacular events also call
    for explanation in terms of ideas or abstractions about internal behaviors.

    Among the less spectacular phenomena that call for explanations in terms of
    ideas or abstractions are urban legends. To understand such stories, one must
    consider how much attention they command in the people who have learned them.
    A vivid story that causes people to keep thinking about it and considering
    its implications can, by that fact alone, achieve more retellings per host.
    If a vivid story provokes 10 minutes of thought from its average host in a
    given week, while a bland story provokes only 1 minute of thought from its
    average host in a given week, the difference in time spent thinking about the
    two stories can easily cause a large difference in how many times hosts of
    the two stories repeat the stories to new listeners. One must consider
    internal behaviors involving internal memories of the stories in order to
    make such an analysis.

    In financial markets, one frequently must consider not only the securities,
    cash, merchandise, and documents that people hold, but also what beliefs they
    hold about companies. Consideration of both artifacts and beliefs, then,
    allows one to explain why a company such as eToys once had a very high share
    price even as it was loosing money and headed for collapse: shareholder
    beliefs about the company's prospects were out of line with reality. Again,
    internal beliefs cannot be ignored to perform the analysis (Lynch, 2000). ..."

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    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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