Re: memetics-digest V1 #1294

From: Hernan Silberman (
Date: Fri 28 Feb 2003 - 01:01:51 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: memetics-digest V1 #1294"

    If a meme is pure information, then it's transfer from one medium to another should adhere to the classical model of communications as described by Claude Shannon. A low signal-to-noise ratio could be responsible for the differences between the original incarnation of a meme and the resulting neural representation of it in your head.

    If you take a photograph and digitally scan it a hundred times--each time using a lower resolution--at some point you'd have to agree that the low-resolution renderings cease to contain the same meme. Again from classical communications theory comes the classical answer: the medium is the message. Our brains make great homes for memes but only the fittest memes find ways to deal with the noise inherrent in their transfer from one head to another and their storage in the neural machinery of the brain. The fact that memes attenuate as they move through our senses on their way to or from our brains is to be expected. The fact that many memes exist which have evolved to thrive in this environment despite this noise is also to be expected.

    A painting might be a bad example. Think of the words "It's A Small World Afterall". It's effortless to hear these words sung and then sing them yourself in a way that would be easy for someone else to copy. The fact that it's a small meme probably has a lot to do with that, as does the
    "catchiness" of the song. If instead of a painting you saw a circle inscribed in a square, you would have an easier time reproducing high fidelity copies of it. Easier signal to make out, less prone to the same level of noise.

    "it's all fool's gold"

    > I think important distinctions could be made between neural states,
    > scribblings on paper, or an artifact (a category which could include paper
    > scribblings).
    > I might have a hazy vision (neural state) of what a good painting should
    > look like. I might attempt to commit this vision to canvas. 'm not sure how
    > well my attempt would conincide with the vision I have. By the same token I
    > might have ideas for stories, yet attempting to put them to paper may result
    > in a divergence from the original.
    > OTOH I might look at a painting and come away with a somewhat divrgence
    > impression than you would, so my recollection of said painting could diverge
    > from yours.
    > What I'm getting at is that there may be divergence from brain to paper and
    > vice versa just as there may be divergence between brains. I'm not sure this
    > variation could be shoehorned into a reified abstraction such as the "meme".
    > >
    > >This is by close analogy to genes,
    > >
    > I'm not sure how close an analogy can be made between the messy relation
    > between neural states or ideas and scribblings as carried over to genes.
    > >
    > >where most of the time they are in strings of DNA, but can be on paper or
    > >magnetic tape. You could even memorize a gene. They are all freely
    > >convertible from one form to another.
    > >
    > Perhaps using some sense of the phrase "freely convertible". A
    > representation of a gene on paper isn't about to go and get transcribed to
    > make an RNA. A paper representation is shorthand at best, just like a pencil
    > sketch is but a facsimile of a real life scene, since you like analogies.
    > The base sequence of a gene might be memorized, but it would take some
    > serious effort to make a gene out of a memory.
    > Nonetheless, I don't see how the analogy helps the memetic cause.
    > >
    > >PS A while ago someone demonstrated reconstructing active polio from the
    > >published genome. They did this with a used gene synthesizer that you can
    > >pick up for about $2,000. I have not looked it up myself, but a while ago
    > >someone I know looked up the smallpox genome on a US government web site.
    > >
    > >So the "fact" that there are only two samples of active smallpox in
    > >freezers doesn't mean much in terms of it being used as a terror weapon.

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