Re: transmission

From: William Benzon (
Date: Wed 14 May 2003 - 21:51:10 GMT

  • Next message: Grant Callaghan: "Re: transmission"

    on 5/14/03 3:54 PM, Wade T. Smith at wrote:

    > There is no information being passed from one mind to another. There is
    > only performance (from a performer or an artifact) based upon
    > experience, and perceptual representation (by an observer) based upon
    > interest and venue. Memetic success is quantified by the similarities
    > between the first performance and the performance to follow. Cultural
    > evolution is not possible without a following performance, and only a
    > successful memetic (or viral) performance prompts the behavior of
    > continuance.


    So, let's imagine Jack and Jill making noises over a telephone. Jack makes some noise and Jill hears something. What's going on physically is that Jack's phone has an electro-mechanical mechanism that translates sound waves from his voice into electrical impulses. Those impulses then travel through the phone line to Jill's phone where another electro-mechanical mechanism translates those electrical impulses into sound waves. This is the situation for which Shannon and Weaver invented their technical concept of information. Information in this technical sense can be transmitted from one physical system to another.

    So, imagine that Jack says "dog" into the phone. If the electro-mechanical system is poor, then Jill may not be able to tell what sound Jack made. Maybe it was "dog" and maybe it was "bog." She can't tell.

    Let's assume, however, that that's not a problem. The electromechanical system is able to transmit enough Shannon-Weaver information to allow Jill to distinguish between "dog" and "bog." If Jill doesn't speak English, then it doesn't make any difference. "Bog" and "dog" are equally meaningless to her. Jack can utter "dog" all he wants, as loudly and distinctly he wants. It makes no difference. Jill won't be able to understand his message. The
    "dog" idea-in-the-head meme IS NOT being transmitted through the phone line. All that's transmitted is a sonic wave-form. If meaning were transmitted then the fact that Jill doesn't speak English shouldn't make any difference. She'd know what Jack was talking about as soon as she heard the sound.

    So, what does it mean to "know English" and how does one learn it?

    Let's continue with "dog." Sometime relatively early in life the infant sees dogs while mommy or daddy or big sis or big bro says "dog." When this goes on long enough the infant learns that there is an association between the sound /dog/ and the animal. But that association is constructed in the infant's brain BY THE INFANT HERSELF. No one's doing it for her. No meaning is ever TRANSMITTED from anyone else to the infant. All that EVER happens is that words are uttered in contexts from which the infant makes inferences. And so it goes for word upon word upon word.

    Now, you might wonder: "How can such a crazy system ever work?" We don't really know.

    More likely you're thinking: "Yeah, but that's just a technicality."

    You're right. It's a technicality. But it's a technicality that FOREVER separates mentalist memetics from science. If you just want to talk informally about culture then, sure, by all means talk about memes-in-the-head. But if you want to do science, then you can't talk that way. And if that means that St. Richard Dawkins is talking nonsense, along with St. Daniel Dennett, then so be it. They're talking nonsense.

    If you really want to talk that way, then I suggest you 'fess up, break out the incense, take a couple of tokes from a nice spliff, and get high. Have fun. Don't worry. Be happy.

    But it's not science.

    "Who cares? The earth is flat, and only 6000 years old. What's your sign?"

    William L. Benzon
    708 Jersey Avenue, Apt. 2A
    Jersey City, NJ 07302
    201 217-1010
    "You won't get a wild heroic ride to heaven on pretty little
    sounds."--George Ives
    Mind-Culture Coevolution: 
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