Re: memetics-digest V1 #1008

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Sat Apr 06 2002 - 04:12:39 BST

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    Subject: Re: memetics-digest V1 #1008
    Date: Fri, 05 Apr 2002 19:12:39 -0800
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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
    > > 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
    > > yours. The "meaning" you are talking about is the most common meaning
    > > exhibited in a dictionary. But if you are trying to understand what I
    > > anyone else is saying, you have to make a judgement about what I/they
    > > using the word to mean. You will understand my words in direct
    > > to your familiarity with how I have used those words in the past. The
    > > 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
    > > going to hip you in the head," that's a meaning you might have to reach
    > > 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
    > > understanding that last quotation. An English teacher, on the other
    > > 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
    > > 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
    > > 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),
    > > 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
    > >
    > > 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,
    >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
    >[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
    >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
    >there should be a bit by bit aproach of the physics kind. If something
    >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.
    Thanks, Steve. One of the interesting things about language is the fact
    that we use it in a playful way that constantly creates new ways of using
    words and sentences. Peter Farb wrote a book called "Word Play" that
    covered most of the stuff I learned in linguistics 101 but his basic theme
    was that language is a game played for high stakes that can have life
    altering effects based on your skill and usage. He says,

    "The language game shares certain characteristics with all other true games.
      First of all, it has a minimum of two players (the private,
    incomprrehensible speech of a schizophrenic is no more a true game than is
    solitare). Second, a person within speaking distance of any stranger can be
    forced by social pressure to commit himself to play, in the same way that a
    bystander in the vicinity of any other kind of game may be asked to play or
    to look on. Third, something must be at stake and both players must strive
    to win it -- whether the reward be a tangible gain like convincing an
    employer of the need for a raise or an intangible one like the satisfaction
    of besting someone in an argument. Fourth, a player of any game has a
    particular style that distinguishes him as well as the ability to shift
    styles depending upon where the game is played and who the other players
    are. [I might refer here to a story, made into a movie, called The Circus
    of Doctor Lau. It was a perfect illustration of what Farb is talking about]
    In the case of the language game, the style might be a preference for
    certain expressions or a folksy way of speaking, and the style shift might
    be the bringing into play of different verbal strategies when speaking in
    the home, at the office, one the street, or in a place of worship."

    Black English is especially noteworthy in the creative use of words and one
    of the favorite games on the street is called "The Dozens," in which people
    make veiled and scabrous references to another's family, particularly one's
    mother. Another way is to twist pronounciation of an old word to produce a
    new effect.


    "Girl, you are yoogley!"

    "What do you mean by that?"

    "It takes ten thousand uglies to make one yoogley, and that's you, girl."

    As you can see, scoring points with insults confers status on the one doing
    the scoring. This was an actual conversation I heard on the streets of
    Washington D.C. some years ago.

    Scoring points in an academic environment can also consist of put downs and
    are also used to score points in an argument. I remember asking a question
    in class one day and the instructor coming back with "I don't find that to
    be interesting." meaning he thought I was asking a dumb question despite
    the general attitude pushed by the faculty that "there are no dumb
    questions." The language may sound different, but the game is the same.



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