Re: memetics-digest V1 #1294

Date: Fri 28 Feb 2003 - 02:38:55 GMT

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "Re: memetics-digest V1 #1294"

    > At 06:56 PM 27/02/03 -0500, Scott wrote:
    > >(Keith)
    > >>
    > >>Ah. I don't make such distinctions at all. To me memes are pure
    > >>information.
    > >Whatever that means...
    > >>
    > >>Information has to be in some material form, of course, but I make
    > >>no distinction between it being in a brain and being on paper or in
    > >>an artifact.
    > >I think important distinctions could be made between neural states,
    > >scribblings on paper, or an artifact (a category which could include
    > >paper scribblings).
    > Certainly. But at the gross level of looking at the spread of memes
    > in human culture, the invariant information rather than its physical
    > form is all that is important.
    > Let me provide an example of a meme that changed the world in
    > extremely important ways.
    > Consider the meme that made the difference between Newcomen engines
    > and Watt's engines. The behavior of an engineer designing steam
    > engines in those days was forever changed when he heard about
    > "separate condenser" from another engineer, or read about it in a
    > magazine, or examined a Watt type steam engine. It made no difference
    > which route the information took getting to the engineer to have the
    > same effect.
    > >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".
    > I have intense memories of looking into the Grand Canyon. No doubt
    > the impressions I formed are different in both gross and molecular
    > detail from anyone else who ever looked at the Canyon. Interesting as
    > these areas of study are, I don't see where they have application to
    > memes as they are defined as replicating (transmissible) cultural
    > elements.
    > >>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.
    > Neither is a gene sample smeared on an index card or in a bottle. But
    > it is still the gene, active or not. And in these days of gene
    > readers that have read out the entire human genome and that of dozens
    > of other species along with synthesizers that write genes, I think
    > "freely convertible" is just stating the obvious.
    > >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.
    > Does a computer file of "War and Peace" read differently from a paper
    > copy? Is it somehow shorthand or a facsimile? I don't think so.
    > A base pair listing of a gene is an *exact* representation of the
    > physical structure of a gene. You could get 4 different kinds of
    > those kid-toy snap together type beads and code a gene that way too.
    > The only thing that is common to these different ways of representing
    > a gene is the information. If you look in a journal article, nobody
    > ever makes a disclaimer that this is a paper representation of the
    > hemoglobin gene, they just label the paper listing as Hemoglobin. The
    > least complicated thing you can do is to take this practice at face
    > value and admit the only invariant element is the information.
    > By close analogy, the form, i.e., paper, brains, or steam engines in
    > which the meme "separate condenser" is encoded are utterly divergent.
    > But *something* in each of them can get into the brain of an engineer
    > and change the way he designs steam engines in exactly the same way.
    > That something is a meme. The only thing common over these different
    > forms is information. QED, memes are information in the same sense
    > genes are above.
    > >The base sequence of a gene might be memorized, but it would take
    > >some serious effort to make a gene out of a memory.
    > You type what you remember into a gene synthesizer and push the
    > "start" button. There are lots of people who have memorized poems
    > with as many words as are in a typical gene. (Pointless, I agree,
    > just a thought example.)
    > >Nonetheless, I don't see how the analogy helps the memetic cause.
    > My point is that the root of memetics, the meme, is a *simple*
    > concept. I might add that memetics is simple in the same sense
    > English with 26 letters or chemistry with fewer than 100 elements are
    > simple (before you start combining letters or elements). There are
    > only *4* DNA bases before you start combining *them.* :-)
    > Keith Henson
    > >>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.
    I consider the informational aspect to be necessary, but not sufficient, to label its carrier a meme. What is required is semantic content, that is, that the information can be understood by a self-conscious awareness and replicated between a multiplicity of them. That would exclude genes pre-Watson & Crick, and for most people, whose idea of the gene has nothing to do with the information encoded in base sequences, post-Watson & Crick.
    > ===============================================================
    > This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    > Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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