RE: Why People are so Contrary

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Wed 11 Dec 2002 - 06:08:10 GMT

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    >>Hurrah, Grant!
    >>Memetics has only suffered by insistence that it 'fit' genetic or
    >>evolutionary models. Nor, truly, do memes operate as mere units of
    >>information, or, from the PoV of cybernetics, units of control. To me,
    >>memetics is its own thing, and offers its own unique insights, and along
    >>with those insights, its own set of applications.
    >Whither Dawkins, the ultradarwinist extraordinaire? Whither Darwin's
    >Dangerous Idea?
    >OTOH don't forget Darwin's provisional hypothesis of pangenesis, but we can
    >kindly skip over that for the sake of the ultradarwinian memeticists.
    >At what point when you step away from Darwinian selectionism and Mendelian
    >particulatism does memetics cease to be memetics?
    >Better off calling it something else then.
    >> > I am still in a state of pondering what I realized yesterday == that
    >> > propagation of memes in no way resembles either the Darwinian or the
    >> > Lamarkian model. Right now, I can't think of anything it does resemble
    >> > other than information theory. Cybernetics seems to offer a more
    >> > reasonable
    >> > explanation than genetics because we have no idea what memes give
    >> > birth to.
    >> > The fact that we have culture, however, is a good indication they
    >> > give birth
    >> > to something. And whatever it is seems to be growing at an exponential
    >> > rate.
    >> >
    >> > Grant

    I don't think it matters much what we call it as long as we can agree we're talking about the same thing. Cultural dynamics would do as well as anything. Cognitive anthropology might fit. Memetics has a short sound bite going for it, though, and I think it is possible to dump the genetic baggage if we recognize that the thing we're talking about has certain atributes that are different from anything else in the way of structural dynamics. Culture accumulates like snow from a cloud and the more people you have making clouds, the deeper culture will accumulate.

    Maybe a better metaphor might be bricks and mortar. Language and narrative are the bricks and grammar is the mortar that holds it all together. Or perhaps pictures are the key. Language enables us to take a picture from our minds and pass it to another mind. In school I was never able to understand a subject or an idea until I was able to form a picture of it in my mind. Until then, it was just grey fuzziness that my mind couldn't quite grab ahold of. Or, as they used to say in the early days of programming, it was like trying to nail jelly to a tree.

    In the days before history, ideas were passed by story telling and instruction. When a group of people sat around the fire at night, and various members of the tribe told about how they killed a deer or a shaman told how he called down thunder and lightening from the sky, it was all done with words. History was passed from old to young by word of mouth long before it was written down. Schooling was mostly show and tell. And language was the tool that built this acumulation of knowledge and ideas we now call culture that was shared by the entire tribe. But the stories I tell today I see first in my mind and I suspect that's how it has been since people started telling them.

    Call them pictures, call them ideas, call them frames or call them memes, it doesn't matter. What matters is that there is something I can see in my mind and pass on to one or many human beings, just as I am doing right now. And after the words have gone out through my mouth or through my fingers, the picture that was in my mind will find its way into yours, as long as you understand the words. The sounds that are in my mind will also find their way into yours whether I sing them, say them, or play them on a flute. They are there and if we're going to talk about them we have to call them by one or more names.


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