Re: memetics-digest V1 #1008

From: Steve Drew (
Date: Fri Apr 05 2002 - 21:45:17 BST

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    Subject: Re: memetics-digest V1 #1008
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    Hi Grant and Kenneth
    > Date: Wed, 27 Mar 2002 19:40:44 +0100
    > From: "Kenneth Van Oost" <>
    > Subject: Re: FW: MD Dawkins on quantum/mysticism convergence
    > - ----- Original Message -----
    > From: Grant Callaghan <>
    > That's where the twain no longer meet, Kenneth. I say a word means what I
    > use it to mean when I manke an assertion. You may not understand what I
    > mean by it, or you may think I'm not using the word properly, but the
    > meaning of the word I mean when I say it is mine. What you get from it is
    > yours. The "meaning" you are talking about is the most common meaning as
    > exhibited in a dictionary. But if you are trying to understand what I or
    > anyone else is saying, you have to make a judgement about what I/they are
    > using the word to mean. You will understand my words in direct proportion
    > to your familiarity with how I have used those words in the past. The less
    > familiar you are, the less likely you are to understand.
    > A hip, for example, is commonly a reference to a part of the body. But if I
    > ask, "Are you hip?" that's a different usage entirely. And if I say "I'm
    > going to hip you in the head," that's a meaning you might have to reach for
    > to understand. But how I use the word determines what it means to the
    > people I am addressing it to. Jazz musicians might have no trouble at all
    > understanding that last quotation. An English teacher, on the other hand,
    > might just be confused by it.
    > Hi Grant,
    > Yeah, that is what Putman meant, I suppose.
    > You mustn 't confuse the meaning of the words/ expressions with the usual
    > criteria which defines the reference of a word.
    > Everybody knows,( like you with Hip) a lot of stereotypical characteris-
    > tics about what ' hip ' could mean. You have mentioned a few.
    > But if the meaning of a word is fixed into its reference, than is the
    > meaning
    > of that word what IT IS.
    > In Putmans example, the reference is fixed by which what the substance
    > has to be in all kinds of different worlds possible to be water_ thus H2O.
    > In all possible worlds water has to be H2O and H2O has to be water
    > and not like Putman said " twater ".
    > It means that you indeed can use the word ' hip ' in all the by us known
    > possibilities ( and a few new ones can be found, I don 't doubt that), but
    > you can 't make up a few where ' hip ' looses its reference_ that is its
    > meaning in all possible worlds.
    > Meaning, that the 'real meaning' of any word is known only to a small
    > group of people_ only by jazz players for example.
    > You can indeed force a new meaning for the word hip, but only after
    > agreement it will be accepted as such.
    > You can 't say, in a way I am going to blow my hip... I suppose every-
    > body will know what you are talking about ( by resemblance), but ' hip '
    > has no reference with/ to that expression.
    > Jus for laughs_ break a hip ! Sounds more agressive than the tendency
    > for good fortune if you break a leg, don 't you think !?
    > That is what Putman meant, without the reference a word has no meaning.
    > PS, I am not an expert in such matters, I was just reading an article....
    > Regards,
    > Kenneth

    Came across this which seems to sumarise what you are saying. It's a quote
    and any typo's are likely to be mine.

    (concerning the adoption of lnaguage by a child)

    " a unique inheritance. It is an inheritance because he is endowed, as
    a human being, with the capacity to learn language merely by growing up in
    an enviroment in which language is being used around him. It is unique, two people occupy identical places in an enviroment where
    language learning is taking place, and this must mean that the language
    learnt is unique to the individual. (Doughty et al, 1972, Exploring Language
    [No i haven't read it, it was part of something else read])

    I think you have made a good point here Grant. Each of us knows what we mean
    ourselves. The problem arises in conveying that meaning to another. If the
    above quote seems reasonable, it folows that we build our own life
    vocabulary as each of us occupies our own 'environment' as we learn, which
    itself is a life long process. So to convey our meanings in an encounter we
    have to explain our terminology, context, and negotiate an acceptable
    agreement on the communication that is taking place.

    To me that could be more of a barrier to memetics than the size of a meme.

    It may be that the size of a meme may be dependent on the context we are
    looking at. Comparing with physics say, a car crash can be described pretty
    accurateley without reference to QM or Relativistic Mechanics. The same
    doesn't work too well in a particle interaction, such as the single slit

    So maybe instead of trying to get some sort of unified all explaning theory,
    there should be a bit by bit aproach of the physics kind. If something seems
    reasonable, and works (ish) adopt it and see what happens. it may not be
    perfect, but it could be a start.

    So apply it to different fields and ideas for now and worry less about the
    big picture.



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