Re: Cultural traits and vulnerability to memes

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Fri Mar 15 2002 - 15:32:41 GMT

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    From: "Grant Callaghan" <>
    Subject: Re: Cultural traits and vulnerability to memes
    Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2002 07:32:41 -0800
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    >>From: "Wade T.Smith" <>
    >>To: "Memetics Discussion List" <>
    >>Subject: Re: Cultural traits and vulnerability to memes
    >>Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2002 20:22:00 -0500
    >>Hi Scott Chase -
    >> >I guess to sum it up, there's acquired and inherited aspects of wiring.
    >>There is hardwiring which is developmental and _requires_ input, like
    >>language. And culture. And memes. I would not call this 'acquired
    >>wiring', but acquisition it certainly is. The tools of acquisition and
    >>the places to put what is acquired are parts of what is 'hardwired'.
    >I was saying that there's wiring with inherited and acquired aspects,
    >getting away from the well worn (habitual?) dichotomy of hard- and
    >softwiring. Then again maybe the wiring patterns are influence by
    >of genetic and social nature.
    >>All creatures have unique elements of acquisition- their individually
    >>evolved senses- and homo sapiens has (to all evidences and with sprinkled
    >>and carefully constrained exceptions) a unique system of retention and
    >>utilization of these acquisitions. I prefer the memetic side be the
    >>utilization side. But, I do think (personal feeling, and regardless of
    >>the fact that I'm not convinced, and I totally see an equal balance of
    >>argument from the other camp, and I will sometimes raise the points of
    >>either side) that memetics is unique to homo sapiens.
    >In trying to check up on my thinking about what ethological fixed action
    >patterns (FAP's) are, I just looked up John Alcock's discussion in his text
    >_Animal Behavior (5th edition)_ which has a memorable picture of some guy
    >yawning. Alcock offers yawning as a human FAP (and releaser). Does this
    >yawns are rigidly instinctive? Yawns are also contagious. If your buddy
    >yawns, you might just follow suit. So if we have a room full of people in a
    >reasonably oxygenated room and our experimental confederate forces a yawn,
    >if a predicted yawn cascade ensues, what have we? A FAP contagion event?
    >People might have their own variation of a yawn and a stretch whereby they
    >may have copied or mimicked something they've seen done before or innovated
    >their own yawning style. Kinda boring behavior likely to cause yawning in
    >those contemplating it, but a start. How many people are yawning now,
    >reading this post?
    There's a fuzzy area to the hardwired metaphor when it applies to humans.
    We are the only species for which three quarters of the brain's mass is
    acqired after birth. That means the environment is greatly instrumental in
    the structure of the brain at this period in time. This is when we acquire
    our primary language and our basic notions of how language works. After the
    brain reaches it's full growth, a new language becomes harder to learn. One
    reason for this is the interference of what one has already learned about
    language with what one needs to learn.

    Using the computer metaphor again, computer operation depends on three
    structures: hardware, software and firmware. Hardware is expressed in the
    actual circuits built into the CPU and the machinery that carries it out.
    Software is a temporary configuration that uses to hardware to carry out a
    manipulation of data for a specific purpose. And firmware is stuff like
    Windows -- a software program that stays in place and helps the other
    software to function.

    I would say there are similar divisions in the human mind in that what a
    child has when he/she comes out of the womb can be likened to hardware and
    considered hard wiring. It's structure was not the result of interaction
    with the environment of the child. The next phase, in which the child's
    remaining 3/4 of it's brain structure is directly influenced by its
    environment and provides a sort of belief system on which the child's world
    view is based, is similar to an operating system.

    The Jesuits used to say, "Give me a child until he is six and he will be
    mine ever after." The church also considered seven to be the age at which a
    child could make decisions based on reason. In a sense, the development of
    the brain that takes place in that period can be considered a sort of hard
    wiring. It is based on the same rules of interaction with the environment
    as the adult brain, but the lessons learned are difficult to unlearn later
    in life.

    What we acquire after childhood is learned with greater difficulty and
    involves a lot of repetition in order to strengthen the connections between
    neurons that are not involved in the actual building of the brain. Although
    the brain has stopped growing, its development continues along lines already
    established and changes are made within a system that is basically hard
    wired by this time.

    Of course, the brain only resembles a computer in some aspects and the
    metaphor can't be stretched too far or it begins to fall apart. But there
    is a basis for looking at brain development as containing hard wiring and
    software that is developed by a process much like evolution in the sense
    that sensory inputs and beliefs about those inputs are in competition with
    each other for the limited space available at the end of the growth period.

    Algorithms plus data equal programs. Childhood is the period in which we
    develop our algorithms concerning the world in which we live. I call it our
    map of the world. After childhood, revising the map becomes more difficult.



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