Re: new memetics article

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Mon 13 Jan 2003 - 01:54:43 GMT

  • Next message: "Re: new memetics article"

    At 11:57 AM 12/01/03 -0800, Grant wrote:
        Inexact copies are one thing, but when the copy is different from the original in almost every instance and radically different in most, it's a whole different kettle of fish. The rules of a game may be the same for everyone, but the way each person uses those rules to win a game is different. No two chess games are exact copies of each other. If they are, it's usually not a game but an instruction. That makes the two things different.

    Keith wrote: "Grant,

    My point was that *perfect* fidelity is hard to find even in genes. My examples were of memes that have very high fidelity:

    "Some memes have very low error rates. Game rules like chess or the suits of cards in a deck are examples of extreme stability."


    The evolution of a meme is not about fidelity, as it is with the evolution of a gene. It is about similarity. Evolution in chess, for example, has little to do with the rules, but a lot to do with how the game is played. The rules remain the same throughout. Great chess players copy each other's styles but not each other's games. So where is the meme? Is it in the rules or in the games? What is it that evolves? It is, after all, evolution or change that we are talking about.

    The Chinese have a game called Xiang Qi that resembles chess, The rules are a little different but the basic premise is the same. No one seems to know if chess was copied from xiang qi or vice versa. Both go back a couple of milliniums or more. But there is enough resemblance that it is obvious that one evolved from the other. The evolution of the pieces and the moves of the pieces is one kind of evolution while the evolution of how people play the game is another. Which one would you call memetic -- or is it both?

    All evolution can not be reduced to Darwinism or Lamarkism. They were refering to specific processes. The way memes change do not resemble either of those processes as far as I can see. Can you cite the words of either man which describe the type of change we see in memes?

    Keith said:

    Now, it is *obvious* that particular games of chess or baseball are not exact copies. If they were, there would be no point in playing. But from the above sentence (in the post you clipped) anyone can see that I was referring to game *rules* as memes and not the games themselves. You are setting up a "straw man" to knock down instead of doing something enlightening like taking a few hours to dig back into the history of chess for a post on when the current rules settled into stability and how or why they mutated before that time.

        In addition, most transfers of information do not result in a copy.

    Grant says:

    Most transfers of genetic information DO result in a very exact copy. You have several trillion copies of your genome encoded in the cells of your body. Any one of those cells (in Dolly it was a cell from her udder) can supply the information needed to make a copy of the entire body. That's why genetic change is slow and memetic change is relatively rapid.

    One man's idea can result in thousands or millions of copies of an artifact:
      A ballpoint pen, a computer, a way of preparing food. But these things evolve as they are being made. A perceived improvement causes an immediate change in the product or the method of its manufacture. I don't see how you can compare that with the way changes are made in the manufacture of cells. They are random and more often result in adverse changes than in something beneficial. In fact, most of them are fatal to the cell.

    Keith said:

    Sure. Looking at a sunset (information transfer rate of at least a megabyte a second) does not make a copy of it in a meaningful sense of the word. But so what? It isn't a meme either.

    Grant says:

    I don't see what you're point is here. Information is not being transferred from one mind to another in this case. It is just input from the environment being processed by the mind.

    Grant said:

        Out of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people who witness an action or hear an expanation, only one or two will try to duplicate the action. Those who do will have to try many times to duplicate it exactly. Even then, there will still differences in performance and what the performance is used for.

    Keith said:

    Counter example. There are vast numbers of people who can listen to a melody and write it down as notes or play it with only one hearing. Ghod knows how many popular songs get into people's heads after hearing them a few times. "King of the Road" is one of my banes.

    Grant says:

    People who can reproduce a melody faithfully on the first try are relatively few. I certainly never knew any. But the exception does not define the rule. They don't set the model for change in a culture. To use them is examples that prove the rule is counterproductive. They are not what memetic evolution is based upon. For the vast majority of people copying is imperfect and requires a lot of sweat and tears before it can be done anywhere near perfectly. Perfection is something we spend a lifetime in search of rather than the way we normally do things.

        This is not Darwinism in my opinion. I doubt it is even Lamarkism.

    Darwin was describing how life forms change and I believe Lamark was, too. Neither of them was concerned, that I know of, about how culture changes. But I could be wrong.



    Keith Henson


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