Re: Narrative and meme transfer

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun 22 Dec 2002 - 05:12:54 GMT

  • Next message: Grant Callaghan: "Who is Mark Turner"

    At 08:44 PM 21/12/02 -0500, Ray Recchia wrote:


    >I think that such narratives are compelling to us at least partially
    >because of our tribal nature. Knowing who is having sex with who is
    >extremely important for survival in tribal hierarchies. Which of the
    >following is really more important to me? The current state of the U.S.
    >economy or who Jennifer Lopez is sleeping with? The answer is obviously
    >the current state of the U.S. economy. I have a genetic predisposition
    >though to be interested in the sex lives of high status males and females,
    >and my mind is predisposed to be able to take that information and store
    >it away. This is why celebrities are so important in marketing. Yes
    >these individuals are thrown in our faces on a constant basis, but the
    >reason that is being done is because of our susceptibility.

    Your point about Lopez is on target. Human tribes in the hunter-gatherer stage were in the 100-150 people range. There could only be a few at the high status level of the tribe--this leads to the situation that only a dozen or so can be "stars" at any time. Investigating "our tribal nature" and its consequences is the task of the evolution psychology. And a fascinating investigation it has been. If anything can lead us to understanding why certain memes thrive that are definitely against our genetic interest, evolutionary psychology is the field.

    >Anyway, I'm reposting the snippet from E.O. Wilson. This essay is one of
    >the best things I've ever read by him. It would be nice to see some hard
    >research further into this.
    >Ray Recchia
    >> From 'The Best American Science and Nature Writing:
    >>2001', 'Introduction: Life is a Narrative' by Edward O. Wilson pp. xv-xvi
    >>"Science, like the rest of culture, is based on the manufacture of
    >>narrative. That is entirely natural, and in a profound sense is a
    >>Darwinian necessity. We all live by narrative, every day and every minute
    >>of our lives. Narrative is the human way of working through a chaotic and
    >>unforgiving world bent on reducing our bodies to malodorous catabolic
    >>molecules. It delays the surrender of our personal atoms and compounds back
    >>to the environment the assembly of more humans, and ants.
    >>"By narrative we take the best stock we can of the world and our
    >>predicament in it. What we see and recreate is seldom the blinding literal
    >>truth. Instead, we perceive and respond to our surroundings in narrow ways
    >>that most benefit our organismic selves. The narrative genius of Homo
    >>sapiens is an accommodation to the inher­ent inability of the three pounds
    >>of our sensory system and brain to process more than a minute fraction of
    >>the information the envi­ronment pours into them. In order to keep the
    >>organism alive, that fraction must be intensely and accurately selective.
    >>The stories we tell ourselves and others are our survival manuals.
    >>"With new tools and models, neuroscientists are drawing close to an
    >>understanding of the conscious mind as narrative generator.They view it as
    >>an adaptive flood of scenarios created continuously by the working brain.
    >>Whether set in the past, present or future, whether fictive or reality
    >>based, the free-running constructions are our only simulacrum of the world
    >>outside the brain. They are everything we will ever possess as individuals.
    >>And, minute by minute they determine whether we live or die.

    Dr. Michael Gazzaniga has a lot to say about narrative generation that fits what Wilson says above. I referred to the brain module involved as the
    "inference engine." Drs. William Calvin and Marvin Minsky both have a lot to say that applies to this subject. The Nesbitt and Ross book _Human Inference_ goes into detail about the practical shortcuts human brains use to cut through the fog of an over complex world.

    Stories, particularly urban legends, are memes. The ones that spread well fit into some pre adapted niche in the human brain. You could probably classify memes by the prototype story they fit.

    Keith Henson

    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sun 22 Dec 2002 - 05:16:04 GMT